No matter what kind of writing you enjoy, it is relatively easy to slip something a little out of the ordinary into the storyline. The only difference seems to be the genre label you slap on it. When you’ve added something extra to your story, do you call it fantasy, paranormal, or maybe magical realism?
If you feel a little confused about these labels, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. Even the experts aren’t always sure how they should characterize a particular work.
For example, a book I read in grad school for a literature class was Tropic of Orangeby Karen Tei Yamashita. It is described by Janet Kaye of The New York Times Book Review as a “fiercely satirical, semifantastical novel. [It] features an Asian-American television news executive, Emi, and a Latino newspaper reporter, Gabriel, who are so focused on chasing stories they almost don’t notice that the world is falling apart all around them.”
In genre terms, it is considered a strong example of magical realism.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, magical realism is “a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.”
So how is this different from urban fantasy, for example, in which events take place in a modern world but there is a touch of magic in the air, or paranormal in which the characters themselves are something other than human?
Reading through Tropic of Orange, a great deal of the story is very commonplace – regular people going through their regular days without anything all that abnormal happening. But there’s this twist in the story. Something is just a little off.
That little something off tilts everything else so that there is something just a little off about the regular routine of the character’s lives. They begin to notice it as the tilt becomes more pronounced, things start to happen that reflect that shift. They are things we don’t see happening in our world – they defy what we understand of the laws of physics. Thus, the magic realism.
Would you describe this as paranormal? There is certainly something going on that is out of the ordinary human experience. But it can’t really be attributed to purposeful magic, as is usually a prerequisite for fantasy definitions, nor is it a case of extra-human biology affecting the world around that character.
So the genre definitions seem to be more a matter of degrees. It becomes a question of where you draw the line between reality and fiction, coincidence or purposeful action, strictly human or something more.
So I’m curious. When looking at literary terms such as paranormal versus magic realism versus straight fantasy, do you see a difference and does it play a role in your decision to pick up the book?