Why magic realism?

Mayday Books MinneapolisIn a spectacularly positive review here, Mayday Books Blog described my novel Damnificados as “a great book, with flaws.”  In discussing the flaws towards the end of the review, the author asked the following questions:

“Why do progressives write fantasies or science fiction or magic reality? Why the remove from the present? It is obvious that their books really relate to present society.  Do they have to aestheticize their angle? Or make it more presently consumable. Relatedly readable. More lyrical and more literary. More distant, less blunt?”


Interesting questions. So I thought I’d attempt an answer or two.

“Why write magic reality?” As a novelist, my first responsibility is to entertain and engage the reader. My view is this: no one will give a damn about my precious political or philosophical stance unless they like the writing, dig the characters, love the story.

My choice to use magical realism is also bound up with my personal history as a reader. My favorite novelists include Gabriel García Márquez and Toni Morrison. They weren’t/aren’t shy of putting ghosts and other weird and wonderful phenomena into their work, and I found those magical aspects beautiful. They expanded my understanding of the power of literature.

The fact is that a lot of sci-fi and magical realism contains social critique. But instead of blurting out their “message”, the authors I admire tell stories. The reader fills in the gaps. Isaac Asimov and Philip Dick never lectured their readers, but no one with half a brain could miss their critical take on modern life.

Is the stylization to make the work “more distant, less blunt”? “More lyrical and more literary”? Yes again. I want to give the reader the experience of flying into an unknown world, clouds on fire, celestial music thrumming – a world of miracles and magic and radiant color. And if that sounds like an LSD trip, so be it.

Do us progressives have to “aestheticize [our] angle”? I can’t speak for other progressives, but the answer, for me, is “yes”. The aesthetics of good fiction are everything. For me, without dazzling metaphor, sharp dialogue, big characters, wild settings, kaleidoscopic set pieces, action and philosophy, you have a piece of writing but you don’t have a novel. If there’s no juice, I don’t wanna read it. There are a few exceptions: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, for example, but he’s doing something extremely clever with his deadpan tone.

So, thanks to Mayday Books Blog for the great review and for the great questions which led me here.



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