The Regulars author Georgia Clark writes in to tell us about her favorite magic realism novels and why this genre is so compelling.
About ‘The Regulars’ by Georgia Clark
Best friends Evie, Krista, and Willow are just trying to make it through their mid-twenties in New York. They’re regular girls, with average looks and typical quarter-life crises: making it up the corporate ladder, making sense of online dating, and making rent.
Until they come across Pretty, a magic tincture that makes them, well…gorgeous. Like, supermodel gorgeous. And it’s certainly not their fault if the sudden gift of beauty causes unexpected doors to open for them.
But there’s a dark side to Pretty, too, and as the gloss fades for these modern-day Cinderellas, there’s just one question left:
What would you sacrifice to be Pretty?
Everyday magic: My 4 favorite magic realist novels by Georgia Clark
I adore magic realism. What is more entertaining, more playful, more challenging than those two little words: what if…? For me, literature is a fine platform for such a question. Magic realism affords the writer the ability to tug at the strings of the world as we know it and play God for a few hundred pages. Often associated with Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges, the term was actually born from art criticism in the 1920s to describe the German New Objectivity. These paintings accurately portrayed the rational world, with a magic twist. Now a fully fledged genre in all forms of art, magic realist stories tend to take place in a world we do and do not recognize, layering magic over the domestic, the surreal over the ordinary. Here are some titles worth taking the trip for:
‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ by Aimee Bender (Doubleday)
Beautiful, poignant, elegantly composed, and with one cracker of a reveal (don’t worry, I won’t give it away!), this crisp yet dreamy novel packs a tasty punch. Rose Edelstein has been able to taste feelings ever since her mother’s lemon cake gave away the woman’s inner sorrow. This simple yet extraordinarily powerful conceit allows Ms. Bender to tell a closely observed story of family secrets, hidden agendas, and the awkward transition out of youth. The story meanders at its own pace, and while the lack of tension might not please some readers looking for more of a page-turner, I found the gentle pacing quite soothing (and I am a plot junkie!). And trust me, the final twist had my jaw on the floor: an utterly unique literary experience.
Sounds like: “I could absolutely taste the chocolate, but in drifts and traces, in an unfurling, or an opening, it seemed that my mouth was also filling with the taste of smallness, the sensation of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother, tasting a crowded sense in her thinking, a spiral, like I could almost even taste the grit in her jaw that had created the headache that meant she had to take as many aspirins as were necessary, a white dotted line of them in a row on the nightstand like an ellipsis to her comment: I’m just going to lie down…”
‘St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves’ by Karen Russell (Vintage Contemporaries)
I discovered Ms. Russell through her powerhouse of a debut, Swamplandia!, a sprawling, compulsively readable novel about a nine-year-old girl who works on her parent’s ‘gator theme park. Her collections of short stories precede and seed this fantastic book, and my favorite is St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Ten atmospheric, whimsical stories will sear into your imagination through Ms. Russell’s fearless, comically dark pen: ghosts and wolf girls, freaks and geeks, inhabit this swampy, enchanted world. Her characters will haunt you: these lines stayed with me for weeks, from ZZ’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers: “There’s Espalda and Espina, the reverend’s adopted daughters. They are hunchback twins who giggle at everything and rub their humps together in their sleep.”
Sounds like: “Our mothers and fathers were werewolves. They lived an outsider’s existence in caves at the edge of the forest, threatened by frost and pitchforks. They had been ostracized by the local farmers for eating their silled fruit pies and terrorizing the heifers. They had ostracized the local wolves by having sometimes-thumbs, and regrets, and human children. (Their condition skips a generation.) Our pack grew up in a green purgatory. We couldn’t keep up with the purebred wolves, but we never stopped crawling. We spoke a slab-tongued pidgin in the cave, inflected with frequent howls. Our parents wanted something better for us.”
‘The Scorpio Races’ By Maggie Stiefvater
This is more than just one of my favorite magic realist novels, it is one of my favorite novels of all time. Vicious and beautiful, thrilling and quiet, The Scorpio Races is heart-wrenching, unforgettable Young Adult fiction. On the windswept island of Thisby, locals risk their lives racing the capaill uisce (CAP-ul ISH-kuh); flesh-eating water horses borne from mythology and spun into snorting, stomping real life. Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick both have pressing reasons to win the annual race: the stakes are as high as the race is dangerous, satisfyingly claiming victims in the lead-up to race day. While life-threatening games are not a new idea, everything else about this novel feels unique and extraordinary, thanks to Ms. Stiefvater’s master plotting and lovely lyrical style. I could feel the horses breathing on my neck, I was riding bareback with Sean, I loved Thisby as much as Puck did, even while I felt its limitations. The ending is PERFECT: surprising yet inevitable, as the textbooks tell us. You better believe I was weeping; not just tearing up: bawling. Fantastic stuff.
Sounds like: “It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
Even under the brightest sun, the frigid autumn sea is all the colors of the night: dark blue and black and brown. I watch the ever-changing patterns in the sand as it’s pummeled by countless hooves.
They run the horses on the beach, a pale road between the black water and the chalk cliffs. It is never safe, but it’s never so dangerous as today, race day.”
‘The Bone Clocks’ by David Mitchell
This might not technically be magic realism (sci-fi?), but who the hell cares: it’s Mitchell and it’s marvelous. Like Cloud Atlas, this epic novel boldly leaps through time, space and character to tell six united sweeping stories about… well… I’m not entirely sure. In typical form, Mr. Mitchell writes a mad mash of story starting with young Holly Sykes, who has heard otherworldly voices, the “Radio People,” since she was born. When her little brother Jacko goes missing, Holly suspects foul fantasy play… and she’s right. Holly reappears throughout the novel as the cohesive narrative thread, now a barmaid having a fling, now a single mother, now a successful writer. Joining her is a cast of sharp-tongued characters, such as the insufferably hilarious novelist Crispen Hershey and the privileged Hugo Lamb, who first appeared in Mitchell’s Black Swan Green. Woven into the six stories is the war between two immortal groups, the Anchorites and Horologists. When they’re bought into the spotlight, the fine print on these groups is dull, but the joy for me in a Mitchell story is less plot and more character, mood, and prose, which is always poetically playful, confidently chaotic. And his dystopia ending is typically terrifying: more real than the best sci-fi writers around. If the emphasis on style over substance bothers you, this might be a hair-scratching read. I say, give in, and let it take you away.
Sounds like: “I put my hand on the altar rail. ‘What if … what if Heaven is real, but only in moments? Like a glass of water on a hot day when you’re dying of thirst, or when someone’s nice to you for no reason, or …’ Mam’s pancakes with Toblerone sauce; Dad dashing up from the bar just to tell me, ‘Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite’; or Jacko and Sharon singing ‘For She’s A Squishy Marshmallow’ instead of ‘For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow’ every single birthday and wetting themselves even though it’s not at all funny; and Brendan giving his old record player to me instead of one of his mates. ‘S’pose Heaven’s not like a painting that’s just hanging there for ever, but more like … Like the best song anyone ever wrote, but a song you only catch in snatches, while you’re alive, from passing cars, or … upstairs windows when you’re lost …”
These are but the tip of a wonderful iceberg: I certainly haven’t read everything in the canon. Share your recommendations in the comments!
About the author
Georgia Clark is an author, screenwriter and performer currently living in New York City. She has been performing improv in New York for seven years. Trained at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater, she’s a former UCB house team member. She appeared in The Untitled Web Series That Morgan Evans Is Doing For MTV (MTV). Georgia is enthusiastically vegetarian, proudly queer, definitely a city-dweller, and a long-time lover and supporter of the arts, such as New York and Sydney’s indie theater scenes and Australia’s Erotic Fan Fiction community (of which Eddie Sharp kindly credits her as a co-creator). She loves beach days, group dinners, and her beautiful girlfriend.