What I meant

Was it Dad?
Maybe.
Whoever it was, it was somebody.
I ripped the pages out of the book.

— Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, two pages before the Flipbook of Redemption.

Write me the history of magic realism and it will be good, but it will not be fantastic. The spread from German coinage to its Latin American versions did not involve sparrows or men who carried it through the world with their secrets of ice. It was, reductively, the creation of an autonomous Latin American literary style, which does nothing to diminish its worth and does not change the fact of its having a history: a history, that is, of a larger Latin American past that was often unable to account for its own origins, as Brett Levinson writes, and used magic realism to reveal “mythos as a means to explain the beginnings which escape history’s narrative.” With the translation of Borges, Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa to English, what follows are their traces in Toni Morrison, Pynchon, Barthelme, Murakami, Robbins, and then Foer, Eggers, Krauss, Plascencia, etc. to degrees and applications so varied this list is fairly useless.

There are, though, similarities in recent strains of U.S. magic realism, in particular the Foer/Krauss/Eggers group, mostly in their undercurrent of complete and utter pleasantness. Their characters hurt, certainly, but always shallowly and always in lovely, lovely sentences. This maybe isn’t bad, and it’s usually entertaining. But what happens when these books take on history—the Holocaust, Hiroshima, 9/11—is, I think, bad. Latin American magic realism created history where there wasn’t enough, and used the fantastic to take part in the realities of their current and historical political situation. We, though, have plenty of history, and in these books instead of expanding it escape it. This version of magic realism is one where we can violently rip the pages from history books or from personal histories and rearrange them to be nice, as Bukiet says here in far too many words. In my opinion, magic realism is usually best in short form anyway, and also when not taking on the entirety of 20th/21st century tragedy.

“It’s not true,” DeLillo says, “that modern life is too fantastic to be written about successfully. It’s that the most successful work is so demanding.” The problem with this current U.S. version of magic realism is that it seems the easy way out. The U.S. is well versed in escapism enough as it is already.

In conclusion, the Death Cab/Foer analogy isn’t exactly what I was trying to say, but it stands, and Narrow Stairs still sucks.

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