So… I just finished Episode Five of Life is Strange.
I think I need some time to really process my overall opinion of this game but right now I’m just… not really sure how to feel. I was totally on-board through episodes 1-4. Got invested in the characters, intrigued by the mystery, enjoying the magical realism vibe of the story. Even got me crying at one point.
It didn’t really lose me until about halfway through the final episode. Then it just started to get… weird. Narratively disjointed with very strange pacing issues and just overall not very engaging or fun to play. It was a bizarre mix of horror with moments of interpersonal melodrama cut in that made it feel like my Surrealist Mystery had randomly turned into a soap opera only to go back into survival mode. And those endings…. ooof, those endings. Neither one felt satisfying to me.
I just…. I had heard the finale got mixed reviews, but I wasn’t expecting… that.
I don’t regret playing it, but it’s always sad when you watch something you enjoy just not really stick the landing in the end.
Appropriating Latinx Magical Realism: A Twitter Thread
Mel from Books on Wings began this discussion by tweeting: “Apart from all the mess that is MS’ new book, I’ve always been hesitant about non-latinx people writing magical realism. It’s prominently a Latin American genre and she took inspiration from Isabel Allende and García Márquez. But why would we need her voice and story?”
I studied magical realism and the fantastic in college, and wrote my senior thesis on it, so I decided to jump in, because this has often bothered me as well. So here it is: You can write magical realism without appropriating Latin-American stories or Latinx magical realism. It’s easy. Here’s why.
Magical Realism as a genre was founded by Gabriel García Márquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude and The House of the Spirits are two examples of the genre. This genre is largely a reaction against colonialism and Western realism. The idea is that mythology and spirituality are not as separate from the ‘real world’ in non-Western storytelling traditions. Here’s a way of explaining this: when I was a kid, my parents and grandparents told me a lot of stories about our history that are exaggerated, added-to, mythologized a little bit, etc. If I told a family history, I would tell those stories instead of finding the real ones, because these stories actually explain my family better. It’s an argument that it’s actually sort of more real if you include those tales rather than the ‘historically correct ones.’ You can pull inspiration from this genre successfully without appropriating it. For example, Jeffrey Eugenides in Middlesex uses the same sort of family/historical epic framework, dotted with magical realism, to tell his story.
Magical realism is used in the literature of many cultures, from Balkan to Japanese to African-American novels and stories. It’s often used to project an anti-Western outlook, but with postmodernism, many Western writers began to utilize it as well. But outside of Latin America, magical realism is a mode, not a genre. It is a literary tool to enhance your story and give it depth, or mystery. It’s used, just for example, by The Master and Margarita, Ulysses, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Lincoln in the Bardo, the short stories of Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter. Would you put those all into the same genre? No, me neither. That’s because these all use magical realism but don’t try to appropriate the genre of magical realism, which is a Latin American genre. They use it as a mode to create a certain feeling, experience, and depth for the reader, but are not directly using the styles of Marquez.
That’s my problem with Maggie Stiefvater’s new novel. There isno reason why you need to appropriate Latinx stories or tropes from the genre of magical realism in order to write a novel that has magical realism in it. As Mel added, non-Latinx people can use it as a mode—but there’s no reason to take Latinx stories away. I agree. Do you want to write a novel with magical realism in it? Great—so do I, in fact. But why do you need to write a Latin American story to do so? The answer is that you really don’t.
There’s a low, paint-chipped door in the corner of Alexei Mashkov’s living
room in Providence.
His agent tells him that the door used to connect to the apartment next to his,
a long time ago, when the structure had been one. The door leads to nowhere
now, only a wall of bricks. Alexei has even seen the wall of bricks in person,
when he requested the landlord open the door for fun. He’s always been curious,
after all, and the old, rusted key that the agent picks out from the cabinets
only added to that curiosity.
“You’ll get yourself into trouble one day, Lyosha,” his grandmother used to
tell him. Alexei had been young, perhaps seven or eight, when she warned him.
“Don’t ask so many questions, and try to be happy, or the spirits will see, and take you.” She
had said, “Don’t go through strange doors, and don’t follow voices, especially
if they sing to you.”
“What’s so bad about singing?” Alexei had demanded, in a petulant way only a
seven-year-old can manage. “I sing.”
“Yes, love, but they sing to
confuse you,” his grandmother had responded. “They sing of a life better than
the one you have, so you want to come to them. You see? They want to trick you
and steal you away.”
Of course, Alexei had thought her warning had been metaphorical, if not
slightly cryptic. She’d been old then, and easily confused. If you take out the
spirits part, the rest sound more or less logical. He figured that she doesn’t
want him talking to strangers and end up kidnapped, so Alexei had merely nodded
and promised her. No going in strange doors, no following the singing voice, not that there’d been any in his life. Until now.
The bricks are nothing special: the seams filled with cement, the corners dusty
with cobwebs. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but there’s a draft that only
Alexei can feel because when he mentions it to the agent, she only blinks in
“Why not lock it?” Alexei asks, when the agent pockets the old key and closes
the old, wooden door.
“Why should I?” the agent says, smiling. “The wall is bricked up. Not like
there’s anything that can come out. Now, let’s go to the kitchen. The structure
itself is a little old, almost 150 years, but it’s been recently remodeled.
It’s got a beautiful granite counter top—”
Alexei loves the house. But doesn’t know why he feels uneasy about the door. When he gets the keys to the house, he finds the rusted key again and locks the door.
The first time it happens, Derek is seven years old and having a nightmare.
He’s dreaming of the counselor his parents had made him see after the divorce, the mean one, the one who had pushed and pushed and pushed him to talk even after he’d started to cry and said he didn’t want to. He’s pushing in the dream, too, and finally, Derek, in his dream, thinks, with all of his might, I want my mom.
And then he’s not in his dream anymore. He’s somewhere else.
HANAHAKI DISEASE is one of my favorite fictional
diseases. But I’d like to see it explored in different ways.
It is an illness borne from UNREQUITED LOVE that causes flowers to
grow in the lungs. The sick person will cough up petals with increasing
frequency until they suffocate to death with the flowers fillings their chest.
There is two ways to cure it: first, the love
must be reciprocated. The other way is to remove the flowers with a surgery
that will also remove all the memories and feelings and the tricky part is that
this procedure is PERMANENT. The person will never be able to fall in love for
that one person again.
I see it as a MAGICAL kind of TUBERCULOSIS(or
Consumption) because of the
dramatic impact and influence this particularly infection disease had in popular culture. [Today it was replaced by leukemia, I think.]
It bothers me that you can cure a MAGICAL
DISEASE with SCIENCE (by having a surgery!). The person is coughing flowers! You
can’t cure it with a scalpel! Ok, you CAN, but maybe you shouldn’t…?…
[The best attempt of using science to cure a
broken heart goes to “Eternal Sunshine of
the Spotless Mind”. Great movie! I also think the same principle could be
used for the Hanahaki disease]
I know that this surgery is also kind of magic
because it removes something intangible, but I like to think that
since there are different types of TB, maybe there are different types of
Hanahaki disease. Therefore, you can treat each type with a different approach.
Like, instead of surgery, the person could
swallow a bunch of CATERPILLARS that
would grow and eat the flowers. When the person coughs the butterflies, he/she
will be cured from the disease. In worse cases of unrequited love the person
could use leaf-cutter ANTS and then,
after the ants do their job, lure them out by sleeping with a plate of sugar
near the person’s bedhead. So you would have to see the kind of flower the
person is coughing to choose the kind of insect to use, or what method would be
the best to use .
[Or maybe instead of coughing petals, the
person could throw up butterflies that where living in theirs stomach since they felt in love!]
Water with salt and vinegar or other kinds of
homemade herbicides could also kill the flowers… and the person wouldn’t be
able to fall in love for some time after that.
As much as I don’t want to say it, this was like Percy Jackson for adults. The main character did seem a bit blank but towards the end of the story, I started to appreciate why that was. I also enjoyed how this book wasn’t centered on just one mythical diety or religious figure. The new gods totally make sense and I was impressed with all the “new gods.” All in all, I liked this book.
Having grown up in DC, statues of various dead guys on horses are basically background radiation, or they were before I became Hamilton trash and started noticing them again. Now it’s like every time I turn around there’s a Founding Father looking at me like I personally disappointed him, and it’s getting a little unnerving.
Although: as a result, I sort of want to write a magical realism thing where that can really happen. Where if you do something they would have disagreed with strongly enough, the statues climb down off their columns and lumber down Mass Ave to the Russell Building or the Capitol, where they stand on the sidewalk, arms crossed, glaring into the window of whoever’s just introduced legislation that offended them. They don’t speak, or attack anyone, or damage anything– well, they do tend to bump their heads on low-handing streetlights, sometimes, but that doesn’t count. Mostly they just stand there, mournful, accusing, for everyone to see.
Sometimes lawmakers can talk them around, convince them they’re not actually betraying the political ideals of their predecessors. Politicians who are good at this tend to have much, much longer careers than the ones who aren’t. Politicians who piss off the wrong statues seldom get reelected.
George Washington rarely budges, and when he does it’s front-page news, nationwide. Madison’s always been easier to talk around than most. Hamilton spend more time off his plinth than on it, but he cools off fast. Jefferson holds grudges, to the point that hardly anyone worries too much about making him mad.
It’s not just politicians, either, and they don’t always come to life in anger. Joan of Arc’s bronze horse will shiver to life in Malcolm X Park, sometimes, and carry her off to join protest marches, when she thinks their cause is just. Gandhi walked with Iraq War protestors. The Spirit of American Womanhood, outside Constitution Hall, danced on the day that Roe v. Wade was decided, and when Obergefell vs. Hodge went through, Eleanor Roosevelt taught a clumsy Lindy to Baron von Steuben.
Lincoln has only risen from his seat once since he was put there in 1922, and that was to nod in solemn approval at LBJ from the White House lawn.
Some cities rarely put up statues, and many have taken theirs down. Paris has a great many artists and writers memorialized, and curiously few politicians. In London, during the Blitz, Nelson shinned down his column to help dig people out of collapsed buildings, until he was broken to pieces himself; he stands atop the column again today, reassembled, but has never moved since. In the last months of the Soviet Union, a desperate Communist Party had the statues of Moscow chained in place. These days, Monument Avenue in Richmond is punctuated with a long series of empty plinths and bare columns.
The trouble with the term “magic realism,” el realismo mágico, is that when people say or hear it they are really hearing or saying only half of it, “magic,” without paying attention to the other half, “realism.” But if magic realism were just magic, it wouldn’t matter. It would be mere whimsy — writing in which, because anything can happen, nothing has effect. It’s because the magic in magic realism has deep roots in the real, because it grows out of the real and illuminates it in beautiful and unexpected ways, that it works.
I love the idea that a fey, unearthly Eric Bittle would skate because he has an affinity for ice, but have we considered the possibility that it might be metal? Like, skate blades and kitchen knives provide that little extension where he can stretch out his senses and brush against that endless stream of magic. You know that ‘satisfying feelings’ montage? Where people sink their hands into bags of beans or crack creme brûlée? That’s how Bitty feels when his skates cut into ice or when he slices apples.
(And then there’s a dark converse that he’s always got to be alert for, because he is a dangerous creature at his heart, where he longs for the metallic tang of blood freshly let by flashing blade, or a split lip from dropped gloves)
But he smiles and is kind like he was taught, and his teeth flash bright.
To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.
Thoughts: The book is a re-imagining of the tale of La Llorona. The story also incorporates the Afghani and Pakistani cultural practice of bacha posh, in which families without sons will dress a daughter as a boy. Traditionally, when the bacha posh reaches adulthood, she returns to living as a woman. Sam struggles to decide if he can leave behind his boyhood and grow into womanhood, or if his true desire is to live the rest of his life as a man.
This is a beautiful tale that wraps you up in a world of magic, secrets, and love. Highly recommended.
Warnings: Transphobia and misgendering, Traumatic childhood
experiences, Body horror for the roses that grow out of Miel’s wrist