Meet my cat, Bobb. Meet my special pet, Harold. They are friends and play every day, summoning up spirits on our lawn, which really isn’t a lawn at all but rather a green and prickly stage that, incidentally, is mowed every week.
The other day, as I dreamed of fame, either through my associations or through my sheer magnetic personality, I heard Harold say to Bobb, Let’s get out of here before the gardeners come. We can go to the library and read some Magical Realism. I am so into Magical Realism.
With that absurd statement, Bobb replied, You fool. Cheri has several books of magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Enchantment of Florence in her library. I know because I flew up there the other night while she was sleeping. We don’t need to go to the library!
* * * *
As a young English major, I ventured into the sticky world of literary criticism and wham! My professor branded a big fat D on my paper.
Not only did that D dominate my title page Would You Buy a Used Car from Henry David Thoreau?, but also a spurt of red ink from my professor’s pen wicked its way all over the thin typing paper in what looked like an 8 x 11 blood sample.
Unsubstantiated rubbish, Miss Block.
Please visit me during my office hours to discuss this attempt at nothing.
How was I supposed to know that my professor had done his dissertation on Henry Thoreau?
So, you can see why I hesitate to comment about Sir Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence. Let’s face it: Notes from Around the Block has not elevated me to Her Majesty Cheri Block.
I must confess upfront that reading book reviews is one of my hobbies.
Some reviewers write with precision, like a member of the 600 Metre Free Pistol Olympic Shooting Team: accurately.
Other reviews are suspect in their intentions. Most egregious are those from publications like the New York Times that review their employees’ books.
This review will be none of that (accurate or suspicious).
Now to the project at hand: Magical Realism.
It’s funny about raw and brilliant talent. When it peaks, such as it did in the Paris Salons at Fin-de-Siecle, what were the new artists to do? How could they compete with the perfection of the Realists?
They couldn’t. And so Impressionism, Cubism, Modernism emerged as new art forms. And out of the art world of the early 20th century, sprung Magical Realism, and from that imaginative brush stroke, the written word followed.
The Enchantress of Florence is a piece of Magical Realism.
I am not a fan of magical realism as a genre. Magic by my definition is a sleight of hand, an illusion created by bait and switch. When we watch a magician we expect to be fooled. We know that the scarf, card, coin, or rabbit is somewhere on the stage or in the magician’s coat.
Realism as a literary movement captures life as it is. Be gone personified romantic white whales! Cool off hot scarlet letter that burns into a bodice! Usher in depictions of dead soldiers with ants in their wounds and prostitutes dying of syphilis on the streets of the Bowery. That’s realism. We’ve experienced realism ourselves, especially when we stub our toe on the bedpost on the way to the bathroom at 3:00 am.
To combine magic and realism takes skill; to read this stuff takes patience.
Rushdie’s latest novel is a rush–A rush of SAT vocabulary (I kept a list in a Hello Kitty notebook), of rich sexy historical description and character antics and names so obvious (Skeleton and Mattress) that I felt I had just inhaled my Fenton’s Ice Cream Sundae way too fast. Or that I had eaten a slice of cheesecake that was not a slice at all, but a fat wedge of sludge, blocking my arteries and filling my stomach way too full.
The book is rococo in style, a curly cue of characters and plot which forces a careful reader to reread. One moment a character is heading out; the next moment he disappears into a painting. Where did he go? We know he’s not in a coat.
* * * *
I was just saying how different our lives would be if you, Harold, turned to solid gold and I became the executor of your estate and the grass became brass and our benefactor, Cheri, became a famous writer….
Oh Bobb, shut up, Harold thought.
That isn’t polite, Harold, Bobb said in Hebrew.