Not on any map. Where many fantasy novels feature maps – of Middle Earth, or Earthsea, or simply The Kingdom – magical realism removes the reader from the mundane world without going into a specific otherworldly realm. Instead, the story plays out in one of those liminal spaces between here and there — between waking and dreaming, or proof and belief. Sometimes the author says straight out that the place is not on any map; sometimes (as in the case of Verity or Edgewood), the place-name is a clue.
Gloria Naylor‘s *Mama Day is set on the island of Willow Springs, off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, a place that does not belong to either state, but to itself. The book follows life on the island as Mama Day, healer and conjure woman, sees it; her granddaughter Cocoa’s life in New York City, in the alternating voices of Cocoa and George, the man who becomes her husband; and what happens when George and Cocoa come to visit, and two world-views meet.
Bailey’s Café takes place in NYC and/or limbo, with linked stories about Bailey and his wife, and how they came to run the cafe, and the regulars at Bailey’s cafe, those out-of-luck people who find the place because they need to.
John Crowley’s *Little, Big is one of those mindbenders of fantasy fiction, about Daily Alice Drinkwater, her family and community, and their home in Edgewood, which is not on any map (but feels like a small town in western Massachusetts). Told from the point of view of Smoky Barnable, the man who marries Daily Alice, about what happens to the family and to time and space in Edgewood and in ‘The City’ (NYC). Although Little, Big is about fairies, they are only seen out of the corner of the reader’s eye.
Alice Hoffman writes what I think of as New England or East Coast magical realism, although in *Turtle Moon she does the same magic-making for Florida. Verity is a small town filled with divorced single mothers from up north; when one of them gets murdered and two children — the dead woman’s year-old daughter, and Keith, “the meanest boy in town” — go missing at the same time, Keith’s mother and a haunted cop set out to find the children before the killer does. *The Probable Future is about three generations of women who each have a gift: the grandmother can tell when someone is lying; the daughter can dream other people’s dreams; and Stella, the grandchild, can see how people will die. The story opens with Stella turning 13 and coming into her ‘gift’, which takes her right into the path of a killer, and Stella’s flight from Boston to her grandmother’s house in small town New England. Both of these books feature murders, so contain aspects of a mystery or thriller, but catching a killer isn’t the point; staying (being) alive is the point. Hoffman’s The River King and The Blue Diary also are about murders but with more focus on the killers, their victims, and the people who knew them.
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