It will soon become apparent to readers that my answer to the above post is a firm and annoyed, “No.” Since I first picked up The House of The Spirits in college, magical realism has been a first love of mine. The ways in which important and potent topics are merged with the fantastic creates a place where the mind can think and believe anything. And that’s the beauty of magical realism; it doesn’t limit the reader to the logical. It says, “Not everything that happens in life is explained away by logic, and those slightly uncomfortable places are where we want to live.”
Magical realism authors think of the world in a very spiritual way, not “religious,” just spiritual. Authors who write magical realism make people a little uncomfortable because the realities of their books are easy to imagine, but the unreality of their books start to live alongside the realities in a way that makes them seem, well, believable. Uncanny is one of the best ways I can describe magical realism books. Because they often have a smattering of paranormal, spiritual, or just eerie elements that compliment the easy to believe setting, characters and situations, it gives readers a feeling of unease, maybe even a bit of horror without the main objective of horrifying.
Indeed, the main objective of most magical realism books that shake my being is not to horrify but to expand reader’s minds. For instance, in A Great and Terrible Beauty, Bray expands the limited and stiff world of the protagonists in order to create a space where women can be powerful, even dangerous. Set in a time where young women were sexual property, the other world of the book gave them a place to speak, to live, to run and to become anything: even if that anything turned out to be uncomfortably wild, even mad.
In The Golem and the Jinni, the fantastic elements are the protagonists themselves and the ways in which the other characters react to their otherworldliness creates unease and suspense on the part of readers. What would it be like to twist your fate with beings that were beyond the laws of religion and science? How does one morally engage on that level? This book questions easy logic and proposes complexity.
I could keep describing the beauty and wonder of magical realism, but most of you understand it, if you’re reading it. Why I wrote this particular blog is because I’ve been asked before why I made my debut novel about PPD a magical realism/dark fantasy rather than a memoir.
Honestly, the book very much mirrors my own experience with postpartum depression, so I think people were asking the question, in part, to see why I didn’t just come out with it. Take possession of my story. Well, for me, writing experience as magical realism was owning it.
To be depressed, to feel capable of atrocious things against a helpless being was not just uncanny, it was horrifying. I wanted people who never experience postpartum depression to understand just how unsettling a world it is, how dark and terrifying a physical representation would be. And that’s what magical realism does: It takes the unexplainable and explains it, gives it a body, a setting, a voice. That, to me, was power. I could give depression a face. My characters could physically fight their depression in a way that I was unable to do. Abigail could get out of depression. And if she could, in that book, well, so could I.
So, to those who feel that magical realism is less honest than non-fiction, please reconsider. Magical realism just gives room for the aspects of life that are, well, magical, spiritual and outside of our understanding. Just because we cannot see something, after all, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.