Now, about those effing reindeer
I was buying the whole story, weak as it was, until we hit that bit about the reindeer flying. Look, throwing some cheap magic realism into the works doesn’t make up for the general weakness of the narrative. Adding a dash of magic ain’t gonna make my jaw drop at your breathtaking originality. Okay? So can the damn magic.
I thought I was alone in this, until I read Alastair Harper’s post at the Guardian, which essentially suggests that a dash of magic has become de rigeur for the novelist who wishes to brand his work as “serious.”
Actually, I’ll take that a step further: a dash of magic has become de rigeur for the Canadian short story writer who wants to get his work past the little magazine’s first line of defence. It’s the shortcut to freshness. Magic realism seems, at times, to have become the default mode of Canadian storytelling. And by and large, it sucks.
Now, I’m not down on magic realism in general; one of my favorite books of the last year was Leon Rooke’s The Last Shot, which contains no shortage of magic. As with anything else, there’s work at a high level, and there’s work that flies at much lower altitudes. At lower altitudes, magic seems to be the spice you add to cover up the cardboard taste of a story that’s not quite fresh. Never mind that the device itself is hardly fresh; it’s a dash of Magic(r) brand “originality substitute” that makes all the difference.
The explanation, no matter how the editors may protest, may lie in the volume of stories flowing in to the little magazines. The front-line reader in her literary trench must feel somewhat shell-shocked with all this shit flying overhead. A quiet, subtle story may understandably fail to make an impression amidst all the shock and awe and battle fatigue; a dash of magic shouts, hey, look at me: I’m fresh! It gets the story past the first line of trenches.
(Yes, I do think it appropriate, no matter the nurturing remarks to the contrary, to regard the editorial process at little magazines as defence in depth, with machine guns, barbed wire, and minefields covered by interlocking arcs of fire.)
Or maybe I’m wrong about the shell shock. Maybe magic is just in fashion. But that still doesn’t make me like it any better.