In the latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, I read “The (Magical) Voice of Community in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger” by Jordan Dotson. Since much of my fiction falls into the magical realism category, I was interested in what Dotson had to say about Twain’s final novella and how I could apply what I read to my own work, especially my latest novel Curva Peligrosa.
Dotson reminds his readers that Gabriel Garcia Marquez defined magical realism in a Paris Review interview by saying, “If you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you.”
According to Dotson, Marquez is not just calling our attention to the specificity of 425 elephants but to the key word “people.” Readers need to believe that elephants can fly, and one way a reader will accept that possibility is if “people,” (i.e., characters) in the novel believe it. As this applies to Twain’s narrative, Dotson claims that Twain’s town of Eseldorf “is an uneducated and irrational audience in a world of fabulist stories. In this world, people are wholly willing to believe in wondrous, supernatural tales (whether angels and witches or flying elephants), as long as the story contains that tiny bit of odd and mundane proof that Garcia Marquez defined.”
In Curva Peligrosa, the fictional town of Weed is comprised of characters (people) that believe Curva might have mysterious powers. When time either stops or slows in her presence, they don’t question it. Nor does it seem unreasonable when a fountain suddenly surges in the center of Curva’s greenhouse, a possible connection to the former inland sea that once inundated the area. They also think Curva has healing abilities and go to her for folk remedies because they believe she can cure them and protect their children with her gobbledygook.
Given that the Weedites don’t seem surprised by any unusual circumstances surrounding Curva, including flying through the sky in her rainbow-colored outhouse that landed in the center of town during a tornado or giving birth to a girl of three, it makes it easier for readers to buy into the magical events. In other words, Curva and those around her assume that such supernatural occurrences are normal. Since they become our barometers for the story that’s unfolding, why shouldn’t we?