Tag: magic realism

On the difference between fantasy and magical realism

“We are looking for realistic worlds that exhibit some sort of magical or supernatural element taken by the people in that world to be real. If fantasy shows us a world where ghosts exist, magical realism offers up a world where ghosts are pedestrian. In fantasy ghosts are the whole point. In magical realism ghosts are not the whole point.”

—the guidelines for the magazine doppelgänger, edited by James Hodgson

I’ve always struggled with the distinction, so this is helpful.


Short story: “Roadside Attraction”

“Roadside Attraction,” by Erin Dorney

Appeared in Paper Darts, October 19th, 2015 (or possibly September 6th?), online here

683 words

A clever surreal piece.

Short story: “Blacamán the Good, Vendor of Miracles”

“Blacamán the Good, Vendor of Miracles,” by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa

Appeared in Esquire, January 1972 (published online here in honor of the author’s death in 2014); also in Collected Stories; also online here, although I think there are some paragraph breaks missing

3,746 words in English

I liked this a lot better than “Curlews” or the other Márquez story I’ve read. It’s darkly whimsical.


Short story: “The Night of the Curlews”

“The Night of the Curlews,” by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa

This translation appeared in the New Yorker, April 17th, 1978 (online here), and in Collected Stories (1984)

Perhaps 1000 words?

I’m not sure I really get Gabriel García Márquez. This story is well written but enigmatic to the point where I give up on figuring it out. Maybe it’s an absurd joke.

I like the opening, where the narrator implies that something terrible has happened without saying what it is.

Apparently this story gets echoed or reused in One Hundred Years of Solitude.


Short story: “Though She Be But Little”

“Though She Be But Little,” by C. S. E. Cooney

Appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Issue Eighteen, September/October 2017; online here

5792 words

What an odd story. I started reading it in an idle moment and then couldn’t stop. The mysterious silver sky that turns everyone into what they really are is a great device.

I had never heard of Bunco, so some bits of the story were more opaque to me than others.

Cooney on the creative process:

I’d almost forgotten the origin story of this story by the time I finally finished it three years later. I’ve reconstructed most of the pieces since then, but what I can tell you for sure about it is, when I stumbled across the first three scenes from ‘Though She Be But Little’ in January earlier this year (then titled ‘The Post-Argentum Face-Off of Emma Anne and the Loping Man’), when I was looking for inspiration in my ‘To Be Finished’ folder, I had no idea where this story came from, why I wrote it, what I was thinking, and how the heck I meant to finish it. 

“Totally clueless. I just read through it, barked out a giggle-cuss, and then Carlos Hernandez, who was in the other room asked, ‘What happened? Why are you laughing?’ 

“To which I replied something like, ‘I just found the weirdest half of a story I ever wrote in my whole life—including The Big Bah-Ha!—which is saying something!!!—and I have no memory of writing it.’

“I was having the experience, I realized, of coming to my own writing the way an absolute stranger would.”


On the tastes of the editorial staff of The Paris Review


What trends in recent poetry and fiction do you find yourselves rejecting, not just as editors, but also as readers? In the recent Refinery29 story, Lorin [Stein] says, “I would describe my look as ‘realistic.’ Low on whimsy. Low on flash. It may be coincidence, but that describes my taste in fiction and poetry, too.” Is that true for the rest of you?


“I personally dislike speculative fiction, alternate realities, and so forth.” —Sadie [Stein, deputy editor]

“Suburban malaise.” —Justin [Alvarez, digital director]

“I kind of like suburban malaise, but I wish I’d said my look was Adlai Stevenson.” —Lorin

“Oh, I also hate the obvious specter of childhood sexual abuse hanging over domestic stories.” —Sadie

“I’ll pass.” —Clare [Fentress, assistant editor]

“Oh, and I hate magical-realist food fiction.” —Sadie

“Actually, I hate bored narrators. You can say that about me.” —Clare



Short story: “Views of My Father Weeping”

“Views of My Father Weeping,” by Donald Barthelme

Appeared in the New Yorker on December 6th, 1969 (subscribers can read here); readable online via public library membership here; collected in Sixty Stories

About eleven pages in this copy of Sixty Stories, which makes it about 4,019 words

I don’t really have anything original to say about this one. I just like it and want it on my blog.

I also like Michael Zeitlin’s essay on Barthelme and need to quote it.

I remember once we were out on the ranch shooting peccadillos (result of a meeting, on the plains of the West, of the collared peccary and the nine-banded armadillo). My father shot and missed. He wept. This weeping resembles that weeping.

[… C]learly, in the context of the story [the wordplay here] is a kind of diversionary tactic (“see how playful, clever, and postmodern I’m being”) transferring our attention away from the underlying parricidal theme which one may infer from the undisguised “content” of the passage, that is, the father’s humiliation. The meaning of that humiliation comes closer to “the real story,” one which is “beneath the surface” only in the sense that its thematic, ideational, and symbolic complexities are precisely what the conspicuous play on “peccadillo” attempts to divert our attention away from. […] In fact, this might be identified as a cardinal principle of [Barthelme’s] art, or at least precisely its point: the shifting of attention away from “central concerns” is a gambit, a ruse, and a deflection[….]


Short story: “The Swimmer”

“The Swimmer,” by John Cheever

Appeared in the New Yorker on July 18th, 1964 (subscribers can read here); recorded for their February 2011 podcast; PDF here

12 pages; perhaps 3,000 words?

To me this feels like a symbolic representation of Ned’s late realization that he has wasted his life. But I think it’s probably more about the complacency of somebody who’s accustomed to social privilege and general good luck.

It’s funny how much speculative fiction is woven into the literary canon (I sense echoes of “Rip Van Winkle” here).

There’s no definite reality behind this story; it seems fatuous to attribute Ned’s experience to time travel or to mental illness, even though either would be reasonably plausible reading. The story is meaningful without having to take place in a coherent world. (Edited to add: Could that be what “magic realism” means?)


Short story: “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere,” by John Chu

Appeared here on Tor.com on February 20th, 2013 (“This short story was acquired for Tor.com by consulting editor Ann VanderMeer”); edit: won the 2014 Hugo for Best Short Story!; recorded here for Escape Pod episode 459, August 21st, 2014

6,508 words

The supernatural device in this story is just as unexplained and arguably as unnecessary as the one in “The Paper Menagerie,” but it feels perfectly natural to me. It probably helps that the water is important to the plot. But really, the whole story feels natural, like something written spontaneously in one sitting.


Short story: “The Paper Menagerie”

“The Paper Menagerie,” by Ken Liu

Originally appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Suvudu PDF link here); read on the July 12, 2011 episode of Podcastle (listen here) and the May 17, 2012 episode of Escape Pod (listen and read online here); nominated for a Nebula Award in 2011 and a Hugo Award in 2012

4,924 words

Okay, yes, I got choked up too.

Things that bother me:

  • What was the point of the speculative/fantasy/magic realism element? If it’s a metaphor for how much the main character took his mom and her heritage for granted, it’s kind of gilding the lily. I kind of wish the story had just stuck with origami.
  • Why don’t literary publications publish this kind of thing? And by “this kind of thing” I mean frankly emotional stories—heartstring-tuggers. The likely answer is that literary fiction is supposed to do something more than just make you feel sad (or romantic, or scared, or swashbuckling); it’s supposed to make you think, or make you feel something more complex than heartstring-tuggings, or make you appreciate some subtle form of beauty you might otherwise have missed. Or it’s not supposed to make you do anything, since making readers do things is genre fiction territory. It’s supposed to be inspiring yet unmanipulative, lovely yet nonobvious—a hard balancing act to pull off. Sometimes I think literary-type editors lean too far towards the subtle end of things, publishing fiction that is intelligent, polished, subtle, and without heart.
  • Which isn’t to say the author of this piece added the magic in order to make it publishable as fantasy fiction, but I can’t help wondering who would have published it otherwise. Surely there’s a market for it. Maybe I’m reading the wrong literary journals.