On Brooklyn Follies
I looked up the definition of magic realism the other day.
“a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction — called also magical realism”
I’ve been contemplating what to call Paul Auster’s novels and my search confirmed that “magic realism” is not the answer. Not even close. But for some reason, I looked up the definition anyway. I think because I know what “magic realism” is and would describe his work in the exact opposite way. I recognize my face in the mirror each morning, not because everything is exactly as I expect it to be, but rather because its inversion is so absolute.
Paul Auster’s Brooklyn Follies is a perfect inversion of magic realism by that definition. It’s a monotonous surrealism. He layers one utterly relatable event on top of another: a bitter but unremarkable divorce, a job as an insurance investigator, a move to a childhood home, a chance meeting with a nephew, a black sheep niece, a broken down car, an eccentric neighborhood character. The sum total leaves the retired Nathan Glass confusedly admiring the legs of Tina Hott – the best drag queen in New York City – as she belts “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” at an off-book funeral in a deserted corner of Prospect Park. As the banalities pile up, the story ambles forward and the situations become more absurd by increments. It’s only when the absurdity becomes undeniable and Glass points it out in his narration that it’s obvious how far afield the story is. And the process begins again.
Magic realists point out the extraordinary nature of regular life by dropping fantastic creations into the humblest environments. Auster doesn’t incorporate outlandish elements into a workaday story; he demonstrates why they’re unnecessary. In Brooklyn Follies, he builds magic up from component parts; assembling a mass of pages, screws, bottle caps, necklace beads, coke cans, and envelopes into a fantasy. His fantasy is short-lived, easily punctured, but no less magical for its fragility.
(also right here)