A few writers have told me to be careful with opening sentences in my fiction, and particularly with magical realist stories. Openings, they say, should situate you (the reader) – let you know where I have landed you – by whispering hints of where I intend to take you. And I think my respected advisors are partially right.
You should know what you’re getting into before I, or any of my kind (writers of magical realism), ask you to go trudging through our long and sometimes obvious allegories and labyrinths of metaphors. And you definitely want to know what kinds of Neverlands you’ll commit to flying through before paying for some poor endangered novel or short story collection (doomed to a dust-filled life in the catacombs of a bookstore) with your firstborn.
But I find that situating for too long and in massive increments can actually be fatal to the magical realism that exists in my pieces.
Below are the common steps we will take to employ the situating process in our writing:
1. We pad the beginning with phrases full of ‘concrete’ information about moments in a lifetime, or about the weather’s all too familiar sadomasochistic tendencies, to create the lining of the reader chair we’ve custom made for you. ‘Cause, honey, we don’t we want you to feel homesick for your actual home or for any parts of the actual world. (The customer’s comfort is always at the top of our priorities).
2. We hire actual words used in Earthen dialogue, like “winter,” “Fort Lauderdale,” and “bedroom” to build our story’s setting. Why? See number 1. Here’s where our duty to your comfort often demands we raise the level of situating.
But here are the steps you take as you read through our magical realism and allow situating to reach toxic levels:
1. You test the entire structural integrity of our magical realists creatures and magical realist scenes with your handy-dandy yellow measuring tape1. The realism parts confuse you. Make you demand we dress magical realism in some size-fits-all logic.
1. This tape changes its units of measurement as it gets passed down through generations of post-colonialists, philosophers, physicists, feminists, anthropologists, activists, priests, rabbis, witchdoctors, biochemists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, mathematicians, and thousands of other divisions of ‘sts, ‘ers, and ‘ors that dictate how it should change.
2. You want to split the atoms of the word ‘magical realism’. You try and cage “magical” far away from you – so as to not let its claws near your eyes. Then, you take “realism” into an interrogation cell where you determine to find if it has been used by us as a means of situating you in a fictional reality that mirrors your own, or if it has been used as a means of dumping you Alice in Wonderland style into some kind of dream wasteland2. (But magical realism is a slippery sucker. It rips through its clothing from step 1 and scurries away from you – completely naked.)
2. Dream wastelands are scary because they tend to remind you of several personal phobias: fear of losing control, fear of lunacy, and fear of being intoxicated. And, of course, the memory of having indulged in at least one of these fears three times per week.
Often, as you read through our work, you’ll point out to me a distant border in horizons of other, much older, fiction landscapes, and commission me to build a replica of it. For someone (surely very wise and very old) has decreed that reality is to remain untainted by the touch of the fantastical – lest catastrophes not even Nostradamus himself predicted befall all of us.
Spoiler alert: Magical realism has a dual citizenship that allows it to melt borders and render their situating powers as fearsome as a kitten’s yawn.
But that whole dual citizenship business will probably make you nervous. Make you suggest I restructure the border. So you’ll ask me to situate using dream-inducing words like “imagine,” “seems,” “vision,” and “perhaps” as watch posts around the border. But to pin those words to the story’s ground is to willingly inject it with potassium cyanide shots. Those words shred through the wings of mythical hybrid creatures the way Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution” shreds through Adam and Eve’s family tree. They are the black holes through which magical realism enters your dream wastelands – a place where magical realism loses its sanity and forgets its name.
The truth is…magical realism survives on that uncomfortable feeling you get every time we don’t mentally prepare you to witness the Parkour skills of our magical realism or let you situate our work within your borders. And without magical realism, what else can my fiction do but die and return to the great pixel house of fonts from whence it was first typed?
And where will your dream wastelands take all my Mangrinders, weeping women, Cah-ee-mans, grandmother dragonflies, and Hueco priests? And how will they ever again gossip with you about the affairs of your neighbors, or pull out your grey hairs for you, or eat your homemade Matzo ball soup?
Diana Burgos loves hearing the pianist who steps out from some nearby palm fronds play Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 on windy afternoons. She also makes the monsters in her closet and the boogeymen under her bed pay half of the rent.