Author Helene Wecker Picks the Best Magical Realist Fiction
Readers who've been enchanted by the surreal utopia of Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 1967 masterpiece, "One Hundred Years of Solitude," know all about magical realism: the literary technique in which supernatural events occur in otherwise natural settings. Magical realism's influence stretches far and wide, from classics such as Toni Morrison's "Beloved" to Erin Morgenstern's recent hit, "The Night Circus." First-time novelist Helene Wecker joins this tradition with "The Golem and the Jinni," in which two eponymous mythical creatures meet fatefully in 1890s New York. Here, Wecker tells Bookish about a few of her magical realist favorites, and her choices may surprise you.
Alejo Carpentier coined the term "magical realism," and this book is a classic of the genre. A bored New York composer, aching for escape, takes his mistress on a research trip to an unnamed South American country. They've barely arrived when revolution breaks out, scuttling their plans. The narrator arranges for a journey up the river to a hidden jungle pass, beyond which, it’s said, lies a village unchanged since the Paleolithic. The lush, dreamlike prose describes a world where time seems to unwind--but it's clear that Carpentier's narrator won't emerge from it unscathed.
Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show is coming to town, and Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, best friends born moments apart, can't wait to get a look. Except they look a little too long and too deeply, and they catch the attention of the evil at the carnival's heart. Ray Bradbury understood kid fears and kid logic better than anyone until Stephen King, and your heart will ache for the boys, whose choppy, terrified thoughts jump off the page as they face down the sinister Mr. Dark.
"Invitation to a Beheading" opens with the death sentence of our hero, Cincinnatus C., for the crime of "gnostical turpitude." What exactly that might be is never explained: Cincinnatus' true crime is that he’s different, in ways no one can quite explain. The anxious and obstinate Cincinnatus waits out his last days while a host of ridiculous characters parade through his cell: his obsequious lawyer, his in-laws (who bring their own furniture), a strange little girl and the enigmatic M'sieu Pierre. If "1984" is dystopic science fiction, then "Invitation to a Beheading" is its fantastical cousin, a mix of passion play, fever dream and comedy of the absurd.
Before "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies," Hilary Mantel wrote this pitch-black comedy about clairvoyance, death and the banalities of both this world and the next. Alison Hart is a psychic, a real one, who travels the outskirts of London relaying messages from the deceased to her paying customers. Her new assistant is Colette, a brittle young woman searching to prove herself at something. As Colette learns the ways of the psychic trade, she and Alison must deal with mischievous spirits, hostile neighbors and Colette's awful ex. The book is peppered with Mantel's trademark, bone-dry observations, as well as disturbing flashbacks to the secrets of Alison's childhood.
This one was a stunner, the kind of read where afterward you're in a warm and enveloping glow. Here's the gist: One day it begins to rain, and it doesn't stop until the earth is buried beneath seven miles of water. The Ark of this second flood is a children's hospital that comes loose from its foundations and floats atop the never-ending ocean. The hospital's doctors and staff, its young patients and their parents now make up the whole of humanity. Chief among them is medical student Jemma Claflin, who soon discovers she can heal the sick with strange bursts of green energy. But why have they been saved, and what sort of future can they possibly be heading toward? The book hits a few baggy patches, but Chris Adrian's amazing prose, full of precision and compassion, helps you glide above them.
Helene Wecker received a B.A. from Carleton College in Minnesota and an MFA from Columbia University in New York. A Chicago-area native who's made her home in Minneapolis, Seattle and New York, she now lives near San Francisco, Calif., with her husband and daughter. "The Golem and the Jinni" is her first novel. For more on Helene Wecker and her writing visit: http://www.helenewecker.com.