Saturday, April 13, 2013

Magic Realism Elements: Extra-Ordinary Detail, Ordinary Magic by Christine Locke

In magic realism, the description of the ordinary might come at you in great and painful detail, often beautifully written in almost poetic terms.  I'm thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Of Love and Other Demons as I write, the entrance to the once beautiful and now decrepit hacienda guarded by giant dogs allowed to run free within.  Another example is Alice Hoffman's Seventh Heaven and the man who falls in love with his neighbor when he catches sight of her on her rooftop cleaning the gutters.  The hacienda houses a strange girl whose love is a supernatural force and the woman on the roof is a witch, but those bits are not important.  The mastifs running on dirty floors, the clogged gutters and birds in the chimney: these details are what  the writing strives to reveal and through these everyday items something else, something wonderful, something transformative, will emerge. 

Here's a selection from my current project:
Her feet were still skipping forward, hard ballet soles over concrete, as the man shoved off the wall with a sluggish shrug. Time moves more slowly for the person who is moving faster, isn’t that what Einstein said?

Maybe that was why JoBee recalled the strangest things, memories of her work in this place where all humanity mixed together, running in and out at the glass doors swinging to and fro, admitting all, releasing all. Retail was a fluid environment in which one could be seen by everyone and no one, hiding in places where none expected the extraordinary and no one would know the miraculous even if confronted them, greeted them, ran its fingers through their hair. Yet, if that were true, the opposite of a miracle could go unnoticed as well.

Time moves more slowly, JoBee thought as she reached for the door handle that was touched a thousand times a day.  Her mind raced into visions of every moment of her day to come: the strands of Mrs. Mayweather’s gray curls falling into place under her touch, the sweep of long locks shed for summer beach vacations tumbling to the floor under her scissors, the smell of Cassie’s perfume when she dressed to go out after dinner, the crash of Andy’s basketball on the backboard in the driveway, and David’s arms around her when she made the salad, his kiss on her ear. She felt it all, standing in the morning sun that hadn’t yet grown bright, hadn’t burned anyone, hadn’t killed anything that day, and JoBee chose not to look, she chose not to turn, not to touch the arm of the man reaching out to stop her, not to acknowledge the gun he held. Time moves more slowly, she thought, and it was as if that gun had been pointing at her for almost fifteen years.


Something terrible is about to happen here, and the focus on detail emphasizes not only the painful significance of the moment, but also serves to illustrate that there's another kind of tension unlying JoBee's anxiety in this moment, something so deep and strange she has not shared it with anyone for over 15 years.   In a moment in which most of us would feel powerless, JoBee is making a choice.  Why?  Magic realism uses experience outside the normal to illuminate real-world events, drawing them into sharper focus, provoking us to think about how we live, why we love, who we are. 

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