Book Review: Mr. Magic Realism by Bruce Taylor

I met Bruce Taylor at a Clarion West writer’s gathering in Seattle.  Up until then, I hadn’t met anyone in the year and half since I’d begun attending such events that had attended Clarion West anywhere near as far back as I had, which was 1973.  Bruce, however, informed me that he attended Clarion West in 1972.  Got me.

Bruce said that he wrote magic realism, so I brought up Jorge Luis Borges, one of the few writers I have read extensively whose works, at least some of them, are said to fall into the genre of magic realism.  Bruce countered that magic realism encompassed much more than the works of Borges.  He mentioned Kafka as his main influence and the defining founder of the genre of magic realism.  He himself, he said, had been writing and publishing it for decades and is known as Mr. Magic Realism.

Wikipedia defines the genre as including literature with magical, unreal, or fantastic elements in real world settings. The author often presents the material as if there is nothing extraordinary about it, and uses it to criticize society or politics.  Fair enough, although in literature genres are often fluid and not fixed, and specific works may have elements of several critically-defined genres such as magic realism, fantasy, surrealism, and science fiction.  Bruce Taylor’s stories certainly are a blend of many of these.

For an introduction to Bruce Taylor’s work, I decided to read his collection called Mr. Magic Realism.  It’s a well-packaged book, with a cover painting of all sorts of objects popping out of a magician’s hat, and a back cover photo of white-bearded Bruce himself in a white suit, white shoes, and a white top hat, smiling and pointing to the back-cover blurbs.

As I said, the stories in the book include aspects of fantasy, science fiction, and surrealism.  They all deal with the absurd or horrific intruding into the lives of everyday people, and the typical reaction is for the characters to deal with their weird circumstances as if they were normal.  The stories are light and entertaining.  One thing I enjoy about them is that for the most part they remain gentle and humorous even when the subject matter is grim.  Another aspect I find entertaining is that Taylor often breaks the fourth wall by putting himself into the story as a minor character, somewhat similar to the way you see Stan Lee somewhere in most Marvel movies.  Although the intrusions are blatant, they are deftly handled, and add to the overall surrealistic air of the tales, teasingly suggesting, or at least hinting, that all these strange and fascinating things happen, at least somewhere and sometime, and the author merely looks in and reports them as a journalist would.  That’s the enchantment of these stories.  You know they are absurd; you know that reality doesn’t work like that; but you are willing to sit down with the author, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy a tall tale well told.

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