Yes, it’s an oxymoron, but of the best kind. Magical realism refers to the genre of literature that enriches realistic narratives with elements of fantasy. Think: sad housewife carries on affair with mythical sea monster (see below; you won’t regret it). And though you might be familiar with the genre’s It authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges, the canon has evolved beyond One Hundred Years of Solitude. Here, 15 bewitching fantasies you haven’t read. Yet.
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The Dead Wife’s Handbook, by Hannah Beckerman
Sometimes, death isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning. Like in former film producer Hannah Beckerman’s debut novel, which explores the stages of grief from both sides of the grave: through the eyes of Rachel, a 36-year-old mom who dies suddenly; and the daughter and husband she left behind.
Floating Life, by Tad Crawford
An unidentified male narrator takes readers through a sequence of oddball experiences that include birthing a baby, chatting up a one-eyed chef, and encountering a volcanic maze goddess. If it sounds like a rabbit hole suitable for Alice, it’s because it is. Just go with it.
Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link
Escape your reality for one where witches are filled with ants that carry time on their backs. Or where a village thrives inside a purse made from a dog. Kelly Link’s nine-story anthology is an exercise in imagination and light horror, and though its title calls upon amateurs, all skill levels are welcome.
Flight, by Sherman Alexie
When a Native American teenager who goes by Zits gets into a fit of rage, he’s magically transported to another time and place, several actually: all violent. Sherman Alexie’s story of a time-traveling mass murderer is one that explores the aftermath of wrath. And by the time it’s over, you might be in tears.
The Other Side of the Sun, by Madeleine L’Engle
Set in the Antebellum South just after the Civil War, Madeleine L’Engle’s supernatural tale plays with good and evil. At its core is Stella, who is sent to live with her husband’s aristocratic family–and their dark secrets. An older release (1971), its themes–greed, power, hate–remain pertinent decades later.
The Famished Road, by Ben Okri
Ben Okri blends fabulism into realism for an influential Man Booker Prize winner depicting post-colonial Nigeria’s path to independence. The drama unfolds through Azaro, a spirit child who is pushed and pulled between worlds of life and death. A ghost story, it’s more unsettling folklore than flight of fancy.
Mama Day, by Gloria Naylor
Settle in for a page-turner of love, family, and mysticism with a Shakespearean twist. The scene: New York City and an island off the coast of Georgia. The players: George and Cocoa, a pair of star-crossed lovers whose matters of the heart are tested by matters of Mama Day’s magic.
She Who Destroys the Light, by Shahida Arabi
Not every fairy tale ends happily ever after. In Shahida Arabi’s collection of poetic fables, the author explores themes of adversity, violence, and destruction while revealing what the road to resurrection (i.e., the emotional and psychological aftermath) looks like. Yeah. So this “once upon a time” gets real.
Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with His Daughter, by Barry Lopez
According to some versions of Native American folklore, Old Man Coyote created earth, man, and everything that goes right and wrong between them. Here, Barry Lopez has collected 68 Coyote tales from 42 tribes and chaptered them for a cornucopia of timeless, spiritual, and erotic intrigue.
The Daughter of the Doctor and the Saint, by Edward Swift
A story with characters as vibrant as the writing is rich, Swift’s fairy tale is a family saga that employs a magical bent. Meet the Esperons, a remarkable crew whose good intentions can’t outweigh their vicious turn of fate. That is, until a daughter finds her long-awaited retribution. Translation: sweet revenge.
Things Invisible to See, by Nancy Willard
Newberry winner Nancy Willard constructs a wartime fantasy that plays with life and death. The story unfurls through Clare, who’s paralyzed but can talk to Death; Ben, who leaves Michigan for the war; and Willie, Ben’s twin who stays put. Their fates? Decided by America’s favorite pastime: a game of baseball.
Heart of Altzan, by Rudolfo Anaya
You’ve heard about stories of explorers searching for their lost cities in the Amazon and mortals seeking a utopian paradise in the Kunlun Mountains. This is a story about a blind seer who happens upon a barrio in Albuquerque, recruiting a family to an elusive mirage in the heart of Altzan.
Signal to Noise, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Long before Nick and Norah were curating their infinite playlist, teens Meche, Sebastian, and Daniela were casting magical spells with their vinyl. The story begins with Meche heading home for her father’s funeral and thus confronting the unresolved issues of her teen years. And the spells she took too far.
Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls
In what could be considered a feminist novella and most definitely regarded “one of the greatest novels since WWII,” we meet Dorothy, a forgotten housewife whose severe grief is washed away by her love affair with a six-foot sea monster. This is one quickie that will stick with you long after its final page.
Skylight Confessions, Alice Hoffman
Those who live in glass houses are destined for broken hearts. Such is the gist of bestselling author Alice Hoffman’s tragedy set in a glass house in Connecticut. A bewitching melodrama, Arlyn and John’s tale is a puzzle whose solutions point to grief–unless their grandson, Will, can reroute all of their fates.
Photo: Christopher Campbell