Bobb and Harold and Magical Realism

When I was a kitten, I ate my own tail.

When I was a kitten, I ate my own tail. (J/K)

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.

*        *          *          *

The Golden Handshake.

The Golden Handshake.

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.

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in On fiction, Writing and Teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Bobb and Harold and Magical Realism

  1. Chourou says:

    Magical realism. Cool. Have you ever read García Márquez’s”One Hundred Years of Solitude “?

  2. Cheri says:

    Hi Chourou,

    I did read that book, twice.

    What did you think of it?

  3. andreaskluth says:

    Yay, verily and forsooth!

    I sooo did not “get” magical realism when I was reading García Márquez. Or rather, I did get it but it annoyed me. As you said, it takes patience to read, and readers don’t want to have to be patient.

    I’m so with you on this.

    “…dead soldiers with ants in their wounds and prostitutes dying of syphilis on the streets..”: It’s as if you were talking about an Otto Dix exhibit.

  4. Chourou says:

    Twice. Great,Cheri.
    Although I probably don’t get exactly what magical realism is like, but I know the novel written by Márquez has been seen as a symbolic one of the genre. And years ago I read it just once, in Japanese version of course, excitingly. And then I got, kind of, say, a dizziness, with its complicated but blunt form of narration, so I have to adimit I took a little bit patience to read through ,as AndereasKluth mentions above. I don’t know whether a metal fish fabricated by the first Jose surely could swim in the air or not(lol), but I would say that way of describing has a cetain amount of POWER to lure many readers into the story itself.

    Then, how about Milan Kundera?

  5. Cheri says:

    Andreas: After reading Solitude, and reading the reviews, the adulation, and the book cover announcing it was the most important story written since Genesis, I wondered, What is wrong with my reading and insight???. Clearly, I must be shallow and unknowing. So I read it again. Same reaction. It must be me!

    Chourou, you are right. There are images in Solitude that force the reader to stop and imagine. It must be me! 🙂 Or maybe the genre.

    As you can see from my mini-unsubstantial review of Enchantress, same reaction. Like a parlor with too much bric-a-brac..

    Regarding Otto Dix. Thanks Andreas for sending that link. He and Stephen Crane have commonality.

    Regarding Milan Kundera:Is he considered within the realm of magical realism?

  6. Douglas says:

    I tend to agree with those who say it is basically fantasy. Magical Realism, that is. Dean Koontz does a good job of it, if I understand the genre properly.

  7. Cheri says:

    What is the difference, then, between fantasy and magical realism?

  8. Pingback: Overwriting « Notes from Around the Block

  9. Christopher says:

    This latest novel of Rushdie’s sounds as if written by him to show off. To show how clever he is. Who did Rushdie really write this novel written for? The general reader? Or fellow litterateurs?

    I, as just a general reader, will give it a miss.

    Concerning “magic realism”, what do we talk about when we talk about “magic realism”?

    Well, for me, “magic realism” is any piece of fiction in which things outside the laws of nature, happen. This would include “fantasy”, much of science fiction, ghost stories, as well as the sort of stuff Marquez wrote.

    I can’t say I’ve read much “magic realism”. So I can’t say I’ve read “100 Years of Solitude”. But I did read, some thirty-five years ago (the summer of 1978, actually) “The Magus” by John Fowles, set in today’s Greece, but featuring time warps in which people suddenly found themselves in the Greece of the time of the German occupation.

    I found “The Magus” totally enchanting and quite beautifully written. It’s about the most enchanting novel I’ve read. Each time I took it up I was transported into a magical world. I read “The Magus” intentionally slowly, savouring each page, because I couldn’t bear getting to the end of it.

    Some years later, John Fowles altered “The Magus” so that its magical time-warp bits were all rationally explained. Reading this revised version, I was very disappointed. The ineffable magical enchantment of the original was, for me, totally gone.

    Go to any bookstore now and look for “The Magus”. All you’ll find is its revised version. What a pity.

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