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Topic: New magical realism book??

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Subject: New magical realism book??
Date Posted: 5/27/2010 12:08 PM ET
Member Since: 2/25/2007
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I recently, within the last six weeks or so, read reviews for a new book that was categorized as magical realism.

The book was about a woman who, when she tasted food, could tell what mood the cook was in, and other personal matters about the cook.

Can anyone help me find the title?

Date Posted: 5/27/2010 3:29 PM ET
Member Since: 9/10/2009
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It's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

Date Posted: 5/31/2010 10:11 AM ET
Member Since: 2/25/2007
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That's the one---thank you so much!!

Date Posted: 5/31/2010 11:47 PM ET
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What is "Magical Realism"?

Date Posted: 6/1/2010 4:54 AM ET
Member Since: 7/19/2008
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It is a style of fantasy that uses magic to show deeper meaning, often with mythological influences.  One Hundred Years of Solitude is a classic example.  Other examples would be Like Water for Chocolate and House of the Spirits.  

Surreal magic as part of everyday life.  Often combined with a lush writing style.   Wiki definition and history

Examples that are not from Latin America would be Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kim Wilkins, and Justine Larbalestier's Magic or Madness YA trilogy.  It's now showing up quite often in YA fiction.

Date Posted: 6/1/2010 8:55 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Another non-Latin American example: Sean Stewart's Resurrection Man, The Night Watch, and Galveston (all set in the same world). It's a trend I'm looking forward to exploring in the fantasy challenge. . . ;)

Date Posted: 6/4/2010 2:04 PM ET
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Alice Hoffman has also written several magical realism books....

.It's hard to describe this and keep it separate from fantasy. I think it's when things happen in the world that could almost be normal, but are magical; whereas fantasy is blatent unmistakable magic. Magical realism is usually more gentle, or subtle.

I'm not sure this even makes sense to me! "Water for Chocolate" is probably the best-known example.

Hummingbird's Daughter is another one, set in Mexico.

Date Posted: 6/4/2010 3:53 PM ET
Member Since: 9/10/2009
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Maybe it's just me, but it seems like 'magical realism' is just a term used for fantasy, by authors and publishers who don't want to sully themselves with publishing 'genre' fiction.  They're not writing fantasy, they're writing Serious Literature.

Date Posted: 6/4/2010 5:41 PM ET
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Rich -- that's definitely the impression I get sometimes. . . for instance, Little, Big (which I just finished) has been cited some places (I think by the publisher) as a "magical realist" novel, but it's straight urban fantasy, it just happens to be written in a highly literary style that would likely appeal to literary fiction readers more than genre fantasy readers (at least the ones that stick with epic quest fantasies). However, I think there could be a viable subgenre in magical realism, overlapping other subgenres yes because the subgenres are hardly firm lines, but there does seem to be a class of novels that are set in modern-day places where magic just kind of peeks out from behind corners. . . so magical realism in that sense would be a subset of urban fantasy, but instead of focusing on the magical elements the way much of urban fantasy does it focuses on the normal people that live in this slightly skewed version of our world. In other words, none of the main characters would have magic of their own (or be magical creatures); they would just be living normal lives like any of us would live and something strange and wondrous would insert itself for a second and then disappear again, having sent the normal people just a little bit off the course they were following before. . .

Am I making any sense? ;)

Date Posted: 6/5/2010 10:53 AM ET
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It makes a lot of sense to me. I totally agree; I would never call "Little Big" magical realism; to me that's fantasy. AND, I agree on the literary aspect---it seems like most magical realism books are indeed more "literary" in writing stylle that straight urban fantasy (which I prefer).

Maybe the characters in magical realism do have a bit of magic, but nothing overt---just something that most people would think is intuition, or otherwise explained. But I think Phoenix has nailed it.

Date Posted: 6/5/2010 1:19 PM ET
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But is it the author or is it the marketing?  More and more fiction is having fantasy in it, from little bits of urban fantasy to tiny bits of magic.   The line is getting fuzzy with all of this mystery with magic and magical cooking. 

And the "literary" aspect does not explain how much fantasy and magical realism has shown up in YA.  Ghosts, vamps, and parking fairies are showing up all over.   Of course, YA was always a hot spot of fantasy.  But it now seems to be in almost the norm. 

It used to be that fantasy had horses and swords with a chance of magic.  But urban fantasy has really blurred the edges of the genres. 

Date Posted: 6/6/2010 2:31 AM ET
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I guess it depends on how you're defining magical realism.  I think the relevant definition in Little, Big's case is that it uses the magical elements to explore reality, specifically family/generational relationships.  I've seen Hoffman's Practical Magic listed as magical realism and it does much the same thing.

But, really, you could claim most of the literary type books (as opposed to genre type books) do something similar, so where do you draw the line?  I like PhoenexFalls's description.

I probably wouldn't ever have put Little, Big under magical realism myself -- it does seem like straight fantasy to me.  But look at Kafka's Metamorphosis.  You can't get much more fantastical than a guy changing into a bug, but with the way it's used to muse about life in general, I'd never dream of putting it into the fantasy category.  One of these days I'll have to sit down and read House of the Spirits and see if that lends a bit of insight to the issue.

All these little sub-genres are so confusing.  Little, Big being a case in point.  I'd never thought of it as an urban fantasy.  To me, it's contemporary fantasy - which I see as being something more inclusive than urban.

One of the bookstores I go to sometimes is very weird.  Things tend to migrate on the shelves quite a bit.  I'll go in one week, and the Dresden Files will be in the mystery section, the next week, in fantasy.  A month later and I'll go in and find them in the paranormal romance section.  I asked a clerk about that one, and turns out he put it there cause he thinks urban fantasy and paranormal romance are the same thing.  If we can't agree on something as "simple" as whether a book is a mystery, a fantasy, or a romance novel, I guess there's not much hope on ever nailing down all these other slippery little sub-genres. 

Date Posted: 6/6/2010 12:51 PM ET
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Now that does sound like the authors are no longer following the little boxes that the marketing folks made up.  Which I find to be a dandy idea.  Until I'm in a bookstore. 

Date Posted: 6/8/2010 11:37 AM ET
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To throw another monkey in the works, the book I was first looking for  "The Peculiar Sanness of Lemon Cake," could be magical realism becus of the girl's ability. But  it's really more a story of a very neurotic family. I would not have attached "magical realism" to it except I saw it reviewed that way, and it does pertain to her ability. But the book was nothing like what I expected; was more navel-gazing dysfunctional family relationships.

Date Posted: 6/8/2010 2:03 PM ET
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That sounds exactly like magical realism. . . one magical/fantasy element in an otherwise relentlessly normal setting. . . ;)