A man walks down the street. He’s wearing sneakers. White sneakers. Well, they used to be white, now they’re…gray…ish, and old. Because he’s checking his phone, he doesn’t see the nail sticking straight up in his path and steps on it. The shaft goes right through the sole of his shoe into his foot. Within seconds, the fabric has soaked with wine-colored blood, and he is calling 9-1-1.
What interests you about this situation? The man and what happens to him from this point? Or the nail? Where it came from? How it landed on the sidewalk sticking straight up? Which story do you want to hear?
I remember my first reading of Silence of the Lambs. I loved Clarice Starling, but I was fascinated by Hannibal Lecter. He was an aberration—both teacher and adversary, cultured and inhuman. It didn’t matter how he got to be that way, what shaped him, twisted his psyche. It didn’t matter what his motivation was. I didn’t care. He was mysterious and enigmatic, and that made him intriguing and captivating. I accepted him as he was.
Magic realism depends on our acceptance of such images, characters, conditions, and situations that defy our standards of reality, defy the norm.
When Tita cries into her sister’s wedding cake batter, in Like Water for Chocolate, knowing the union will keep her from the love of her life, the cake sickens everyone who eats it. We don’t question how her tears accomplished this, or wonder if some type of bacteria or virus was transmitted through those tears and survived the oven’s heat. An explanation isn’t necessary. In fact, it would kill the magic, ruin the book. We must accept her transformative gift, and the consequences that come from it.
Now, a nail is not a person, and a cake is not a person, but they both can act as antagonists, if momentary ones. And, sometimes, an antagonist is more compelling when they appear out of nowhere, or their reasons for being in the story, behaving as they do are nebulous, or just don’t fit.
Magic, the unexpected, aberrations, and enigmas can be irresistible if they stay true to their natures, resist explanation, and let readers fill in the blanks…or not.
©2018 All Rights Reserved