One of the journals I picked up at AWP was the slim Spring 2012 volume of A cappella Zoo. I’m becoming more interested in magical realism, thought I technically haven’t written much in that area, so this journal was an opportunity to see what’s out there right now.
I say magical realism, though the journal itself identifies the work it’s looking for as possessing an “uncanny or imagined element,” so that perhaps opens up the journal beyond strictly magical realism. Regardless, I’m not interested in parsing out the finer points of genre in this particular blog post, but magical realism was in my head when I picked up this issue.
The pieces here are short and nearly always put the fantastic or unusual aspects of the story right up front – the reader knows from the first sentence that something is weird here, whether it’s a ghost, an ever-present clown, or the unwitting invasion of a dream person into the real world. The bulk of the story is spent dealing with this element, whether it is newly arisen or a long-time companion, rather than spending the story revealing what is going on with the “weird thing.”
My understanding of the function of magical realism, or what is often the function of magical realism, is to translate an idea, a feeling, or an aspect of life or society into a metaphor. This idea applies well to much of the fiction in this issue. In “War Crumbs” by Joe Kapitan, the narrator’s Great Uncle Henry falls apart periodically and must be put back together. More than falls a part, he seems to explode, and the parts are scattered so that the family must stop what they are doing until all the parts are found, no matter where they are: “the beach, the leeward sides of dunes, the garden, the house, all for old Henry’s parts – sometimes a hand down in there between the rows of grapevines, perhaps a foot exposed at low tide, or a section of pale belly flesh nestled among the towels in the upstairs linen closet” (91). This story makes for a fascinating read on the metaphorical function of fiction, as the tension of this story is deciding what Great Uncle Henry’s cohesion issues is a metaphor of – different characters have different ideas, and the ideas that the narrator chooses to believe affect his decisions.
This issue, while adhering to the more “technical” definitions of uncanny literature, keeps the idea fresh by presenting fiction in different forms and with different techniques for presenting and using fantastical elements. It fit well with my goal of wanting to read and think about ways of approaching magical realism, and for me this was a great reading tour of aspects of the genre.