Atticus Review’s usual literary bent is bending closer to magical realism this week, getting chummy with underwater jury duty and personified appliances. I say we’re bending, because while these pieces do not sport all the tricked-out features of magical realism, there is a sense, a whiff—enough to elicit a cocked head and a leap of faith. I’m not one to go slapping labels haphazardly where they don’t belong, but I will say that this might be an issue for the Barthelme fans, the Borges believers, and the García Márquez cronies.
“The Mermaid Eaters” by newcomer Brandon Wells is—well, have you ever imagined Napoleon Dynamite as a merman? Right—neither had I, until the voice of this piece took me over, took me deep. The comedy here is understated and effectual, and the fantastical elements almost poke fun of themselves, but Wells accomplishes this without coming across as duping readers who have unflinchingly agreed to buy the ticket to Mermaidville. It’s a fun romp with a dose of seriousness too—a new take on what Verious Serious Writers call “The Human Condition.” (Though this will be the last time you’ll catch me using the term “The Human Condition.”) We humans don’t have the corner on The Condition, it turns out. Kenny Rogers could have just as easily been a merman cross-species singing “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” and really, he does look suspiciously like Ariel’s dad.
Speaking of conditions, “Oven” by John Oliver Hodges gives super-human sympathy to a character who, surely by some standards in the DSM-5, has one. This is what struck me most about the story: the grace with which Hodges sketches a troubled woman, even to the point of rationalizing anything that might be construed as unusual about her. It’s touching and funny, and it astutely tackles the problematic nature of how some of us go about finding love.
Warning here: “Psych Interview With a Rape Victim” is way more realist than magical, but Matthew Hamilton perceptively demonstrates how easily real thoughts can spiral into magical thinking when injected with a crisis. Paradise takes on a new meaning, and shifts shape. Predictability has imploded, so, no: thoughts don’t have to make sense.
And they won’t—not in this issue. And that’s okay. Magical realism is about surrendering control of ideas, the knock-knock-knock of logic, while still providing a comfy couch to sink into. The couch might be made of walruses, sure, but you’ll get used to it.
Photo Source: Vita Brevis