Tag Archives: magical realism

Review: Alice Hoffman’s ‘The Rules of Magic’

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The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Rules of Magic,” the prequel to Alice Hoffman’s 1995 bestseller “Practical Magic,” sparkles with the same wisdom and magical realism as the witching story of Sally and Gillian Owens did twenty two years ago. The characters, stories and writing style of this stunning prequel fit hand-in-glove with the characters, stories and writing style of “Practical Magic,” not an easy bit of conjuring for an author to face when going back to a story she told before she truly knew the magical rules when she first wrote about them.

This backstory about Sally and Gillian’s aunts Franny and Bridget (AKA “Jet”) focuses on a theme about life’s curses and blessings and what individuals wish to make of the fate and destiny they are given. Early on, Franny and Jet’s mother asks the sisters whether they’re opting for courage or caution in their unfolding lives. Their answers make for a cohesive story. Clearly, Alice Hoffman opted for courage when she traveled back to 1995 to continue the story of the Owens family.

The book contains wonderful surprises, making it much deeper than a family tree tacked on to the front of a famous novel many years later. The book offers its own multiple levels of depth and angst and joy while changing in positive ways the way many of us who read it will view the characters and themes of the original novel. (Emerging writers considering magical realism as a potential genre for their work will find both novels to be a demonstration of how an author can utilize magic and realism seamlessly in novels set in today’s world.”

While the ending of “The Rules of Magic” represents the best of all possible worlds for the two novels and their characters, turning the last page might be depressing for some readers. The reason is simply this: nobody wants the story to end because when it comes down to it, we need these characters, their joys and sorrows, and their magic in our lives.

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–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.

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Autumn Price List for My Kindle Books

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Prices on the following books have been reduced in time for the vast amount of shopping you plan to do for the holidays.

  • Eulalie and Washerwoman (novel) – $2.99 – conjure, crime, and magic in Florida
  • The Sun Singer (novel) – $1.99 – contemporary fantasy in the Montana mountains
  • Mountain Song (novel) – $1.99 – realism with a splash of magic in the Montana mountains
  • At Sea (novel) $1.99 – realism with a splash of magic on an aircraft carrier in the Vietnam War
  • “Waking Plain” (short story) $0.99 a very fractured fairy tale

Happy shopping!

–Malcolm

To learn more about my books, please visit my website.

Sacred Earth, Spiritual Journeys

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“Indigenous nations and peoples believe in the spiritual powers of the universe. We believe in the ultimate power and authority of a limitless energy beyond our comprehension. We believe in the order of the universe. We believe in the laws of creation and that all life is bound by these same natural laws. We call this essence the spirit of life. This is what gives the world the energy to create and procreate, and becomes the ponderous and powerful law of regeneration—the law of the seed.” – Oren Lyons.

View outside my living room window.

View outside my living room window.

When I look out the window and see the land, it’s much easier for me to believe in a sacred earth and the kinds of spiritual journeys that occur there than it is when I look at the Internet, the television set or a traffic jam on a city street.

I’ve had the same feelings in Apalachicola National Forest, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley and along the California coast at Pt. Reyes.

As the author of fantasy and magical realism novels and short stories, I can “get away with” suggesting that the land is sentient and that the animals one meets on the trail or sees above the mountain tops are wise and have lessons to teach us. Why? Because readers within my genre aren’t surprised by that view.

With most of the U.S. population living in cities, I wonder if those who live there long for the land as it’s shown them in spiritual ecology books and fantasy novels; or is there such a big disconnect between the land and daily life in the city, that environmental issues, spiritual journeys, and all the “Earth in peril” causes we hear about on the news or see on Facebook don’t seem real at all–outside of the novel on the nightstand.

Lake McDonald - NPS Glacier Park photo

Lake McDonald – NPS Glacier Park photo

I have no trouble writing fantasy that shows the Earth as alive because, whether it’s old childhood superstitions that grew out of so many days and nights spend camping, fishing and hiking or whether it’s wishful thinking, I see the land the way I write about it in my fiction.

I think it helps an author to not only have a passion for the themes in his/her storytelling, but to literally believe they’re true. When one believes, one tends to see a lot of things in nature (and elsewhere) that others do not see. Perhaps it’s an illusion or a tired hiker’s hallucination; I can’t say for sure. But it seems real, real enough to believe in.

Perhaps you have other passions. If you write stories and poems, create art, compose or sing songs, or work as a photographer, those passions and beliefs probably impact your work, making it more vibrant, believable and transcendent to those who see it or hear it. They may ask you where you get your ideas and you may tell them that within your belief system and your own journey, the ideas behind your work are quite natural.

In folk magic, everything is alive and interacts with people in their daily lives.

“Where do you get your ideas” is such a standard question authors hear, we’re often flippant about it and make up absurd answers because, frankly, we’re tired of the question and tired of trying to concretely say where those ideas come from. When we’re not being flippant, we say those ideas are part of our lives and so they’re echoed in everything we do.

For me, it’s a sacred Earth and a spiritual journey. Whatever your life and your passions are about, your art is going to reflect that if it’s honest art.

–Malcolm

This post originally appeared on “The Sun Singer’s Travels” in 2015.

 

 

Review: ‘Curva Peligrosa’ by Lily Iona MacKenzie

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Curva PeligrosaCurva Peligrosa by Lily Iona MacKenzie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mexican Curva Peligrosa follows America’s first “superhighway,” the Old North Trail that has seen many hooves, bare feet and moccasins traveling between Southern Mexico and Canada over the past 12,500 years, and after 20 years of dreams and exuberant experiences, she settles in the small town of Weed, Alberta.

Magic follows her, to hovers around her and her mysterious green house, her herbal cures, her skills as a midwife, her sharpshooting, her otherworldly dandelion wine, her lusty appreciation of sex, and her larger-than-life approach to living that astounds and intrigues the residents of her adopted town. They are scared of her but can’t stay away.

Time and reality blur in this well-written and carefully researched novel, in part because the chapters are–in a sense–a series of slices life and mini-stories that are not exactly presented in chronological order. Along the trail, Curva writes letters to her dead brother Xavier who will become a frequent visitor to her spread near Weed. The prostitute and fortune teller Suelita and Billie, the Blackfoot chief from the nearby reservation, are also frequent visitors. Everyone drinks the wine. Lots of it.

And then there’s the man named Shirley from Sweet Grass, Montana who wants to drill for oil throughout the region. Shirley thinks he can tame Curva’s strange ideas, alluring body, and potentially oil-rich land.

Kadeem, the leader of a traveling troupe of acrobats and other performers tells Curva, “Nothing is what it seems. Carpets fly. Plants give birth to animals. Characters escape from novels. All this is normal.” Such things occur as regularly as the rising and setting of the sun and moon throughout the inventive magical realism, addictive plot, and exotic character development of Lily Iona MacKenzie’s “Curva Peligrosa.”

Chances are good that Curva, Sabina (her daughter of unclear origins), Xavier (who dislikes being called dead, much less a corpse), Billie (who talks to old bones), Suelita (who longs for wings), and even Shirley (who thinks material riches are everything) will ultimately escape from from this novel. If so, they will visit you during storms, fog, and dreams. This is normal.

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The many worlds of fiction are calling you away

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“I know I walk in and out of several worlds each day.” – Joy Harjo

I won’t try to second guess what Harjo, winner of the 2017 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, meant exactly when she mentioned several worlds. If you’ve read her 1983 book She Had Some Horses, you might suspect–as I do–that her “several worlds” are more than figurative. The title poem, which I can never read often enough, says the horses are sand, are maps, contain ocean water, are the sky’s air, fur and teeth, breakable clay, and splintered from a cliff. Throughout the poem, those horses are everything else.

Nothing figurative there. I see it as real because when I’m there, reading, I’m in that world, and she did not say, like sand, like maps, like fur and teeth, etc. When you read and when you are where the words take you, you are no longer in your safe bed or your easy chair or at your desk. You are in a place where “She had horses with eyes of trains.”

NASA Photo

If you write, you are where the words have taken you, perhaps with Joy Harjo, in a place where “She had horses who licked razor blades.” The typewriter, yellow tablet, or PC slip away, and now you see the bright cold day where the clocks were striking thirteen, where the screaming comes across the sky, where there was a dark and stormy night where the rain was falling in torrents, where Mrs. Dalloway bought flowers for herself, or where stars are living and dying.

If you read and/or write, it is hard not to talk in and out of several worlds each day. The words conjure you there. Those words are your quantum entanglement, placing you simultaneously at one place and another place, and the place with the strongest attraction is where you attention is, often more within the book than your safe bed or easy chair. Perhaps the call of sleep, the ringing of a phone, another person entering the room, or a thunderstorm will draw you away from the horses “who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.”

That sudden change of worlds can be like dying or being born. It’s often wrenching like being pulled suddenly out of weep water or stepping into a fire. Sometimes the worlds blur the way dreams and waking moments tangle together at dawn. Sometimes you’re sure you safe bad is made of sand, is a map, contains ocean water, is fur and teeth, breakable clay, and a splintered sliver from a red cliff. Worlds can tangle for readers, writers, dreamers, and anyone else with an free-ranging imagination.

You become a shaman when you read or write. To the logical observer, you appear to be a man or woman reading in bed or a man or woman writing a book at his or her computer. They can’t quite see that you are the sky’s air and the ocean’s water.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

Re-reading a classic: ‘The House of the Spirits’

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“One of the strongest impressions I took away from this book was that despite everything there is an optimism about the book’s ending. Throughout the book one has felt strongly the inevitability of events – that the blindness of the right-wing Esteban to the liberalism of his family, which one might argue is inherited from his wife’s parents, will lead to disaster, that Esteban’s casual abuse and rape of peasants will rebound on future generations of the family – and yet at the end Alba breaks the cycle of anger and hatred.” Zoe Brooks in Magical Realism

Books change each time we read them–unless we’re cursed with a photographic memory. Presumably, the words don’t re-arranged themselves on the pages, nor do heretofore unknown pages creep into the book with new characters and subplots from Central Casting.

The world is probably stranger than we know, so it’s safe to assume we change in between the readings. I’m not the same person I was when I first read The House of The Spirits in 1986 when my Bantam mass market paperback edition was published. Years have passed and governments and attitudes have come and gone since then.

Imagine the differences in first-reading perception of this 433-page saga between the rushed college student who has a few weeks to read it for a 400-level college course in order to compare and contrast it with the somewhat similar multi-generational magical realism sagas The Hummingbird’s Daughter and One Hundred Years of Solitude, and his/her twin reading the book on a rainy afternoon in a mountain cabin.

The first will be speed reading, taking notes, and writing in the margins. The second, (depending on whether the rain has interrupted planned outdoor activities or not) may be either relaxed or bored. They won’t see the same book. A third person who is reading the book leisurely in order to savor every line will come away with a very different memory of the story.

Like The Hummingbird’s Daughter (Mexican setting) and One Hundred Years of Solitude (South American setting), The House of Spirits (unspecified Latin American setting, but presumably Chile) includes peasant workers and their beliefs, strong patróns who control the people’s temporal destiny, harsh and potentially unstable governments, and leftist or other guerrillas seeking change.

To my mind, the magic in One Hundred Years of Solitude is more overt and widespread than the magic in the other two books, one with the young girl Teresita (in the very mystical “Hummingbird” based on  a real person) who can heal, the other with the family matriarch, Clara, who talks to spirits and moves objects without touching them. Before re-reading The House of the Spirits during the last several days, my memory of the book was that it contained a lot more magic than it does.  I remembered its gritty realism, but had blocked out the worst of it.

Had I taken a lie-detector test about the story in Allende’s debut novel several weeks ago, it would probably show (with no hint of fabrication) that my mind had mixed some of the characters and circumstances with those from her other books and that I recalled a much more ethereal tale than physically exists on the pages of my 31-year-old paperback. I don’t read books with the eye of a college English professor who also reads critical reviews and in-depth analyses of the books s/he teaches in class and/or writes papers about. So, if somebody asks me to tell them what the books I’ve read are about, my knowledge of the plots and characters will always be imperfect.

Somehow, books read by many an avid reader often run together over time unless the stories are constantly studied and compared with other books in the same genre. If there’s a blessing in a poor memory, it’s that in re-reading a book, the opportunity for fresh discoveries is all the greater for it. I suspect The House of the Spirits changed me more this time than it did in 1986, for now I am seeing more clearly a story that I had mythologized over the years. I am older, so I see the aging Clara with fresh but older eyes and, having come to terms to some extent with the amount of hatred and evil in the world, I see Alba’s hope at the end of her horrid torture as more authentic than when my anger–as a younger, more volatile man–at her treatment blinded me to her transformation.

Like absent old friends, old books usually aren’t the books we remember exactly. That’s the beauty of meeting up with them again and then going away all the wiser for it.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

 

Brief Review: ‘The Immortal Life of Piu Piu’

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The Immortal Life of Piu PiuThe Immortal Life of Piu Piu by Bianca Gubalke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some books come very close to being holy writ, sacred in their reach, profound in their wisdom, delightful in their humor, well-anchored in the world as we know it, fueled by the worlds we yearn for. This is such a book, with wonderful storytelling as well. You’ll meet Pippa, the girl who loves nature and thirsts for knowledge. You’ll meet Piu Piu, the who takes the plunge into a brief flirtation with our temporal life and thirsts for freedom. Look closely: behind the magic, you’ll probably meet yourself.

Well developed and memorable characters, an inventive story, and an immersion into the well-researched and well-described flora and fauna of the setting. Highly recommended and magical.

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