Making Magic

Stunning Sentences

My five-year-old son spent the morning trying to convince me it wasn’t him, but a group of five, seven, 100 ninjas who came into his room and threw Legos everywhere.

My son has an interesting problem, one faced by writers who want to conjure up magic: magical realism, or ‘real maravilloso’—when marvelous or magical events occur in a realistic narrative, locating magic in the ordinary. While it’s typically associated with contemporary Latin American writers (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Clarice Lispector, Isabel Allende, to name a few), it has found its way in novels by writers from other continents—Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Gunter Grass, Fay Weldon, and now Lucy Wood. Continue reading

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The Boomstick Film Club: Always Shine

Watch it with us: Letterboxd

One of the great things about Letterboxd (which I am not shilling for, I just love their site and wish everyone would use it so I would know what all my friends are watching) is its list functionality—users can make lists of movies on any topic. When I logged Always Shine (2016) this morning and saw that it appears on the list “movies where female friendships are the scariest concept on earth,” along with forty other movies, I was surprised more by the frequency with which female friendship is the center of a film than by the fact that it turns toxic so often. There’s something inherently dangerous about women becoming close friends, and filmmakers love to let their imaginations run wild with the myriad ways these friendships can combust. Continue reading

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Art From the Seeds of Violence

Nick Joaquin had the look of a dissolute emperor and the disci­pline of a monk. He lived, worked, and died in the city of his birth. He loved San Miguel beer, walking around Manila, and attending Mass. He spoke Tagalog, Spanish, and English, plus kanto-boy Tagalog and street Englishes. His style has a term: Joa­quinesque. His command of voice, language, and form is abso­lute. Some of his sentences are like labyrinths that if you pulled a string through, you get this architectonic surety, a marvel. As a writer, I am always falling in love with him again. I study his sen­tences. Puns lurk in his precision. His favorite is “going for lost”: inside the phrase is Tagalog, nagwawala, meaning both to lose and to go nuts. He likes gerundizing (Tagalog is verb based) and history puns. For Filipinos, Joaquin is sui generis. Almost maddeningly Manileiio, subversively religious, pitch-perfectly bour­geois, preternaturally feminist, historically voracious, Joaquin’s work has a fatality–it simply is.

I read him when I was a child in Leyte. MacArthur had landed on my island in 1944; and since May 1, 1898, when Spain’s ships fell to American cannons in Manila Bay, the Philippines­–condemned on that May Day to English–has made art in English from seeds of violence. Continue reading

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Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Dodai Stewart

Dodai Stewart is a writer, editor, and self-described pop culture junkie. Stewart is the Editor In Chief of, and the former Deputy Editor of Her writing has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, Glamour, and the New York Times, amongst others. You can find a sample of her writing here, and you can follow her on Twitter @dodaistewart. Stewart lives in Manhattan with her misanthropic Chihuahua.

E.B. Bartels: How did you begin writing in general and nonfiction specifically? Continue reading

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Hitting Shelves #42: Exes by Max Winter

Exes by Max Winter comes out today! It’s a heartbreaking, hilarious novel-in-fragments, in which Clay Blackall compiles the stories of longtime residents of Providence, Rhode Island, in an attempt to understand his brother Eli’s death and the city that has defined and ruined them both.

Fiction Advocate: Max! How are you celebrating the publication of Exes?

Max Winter: I guess I already did? Because even though Exes’ official release date is April 11, Amazon shipped their copies two weeks early, which completely caught me off guard. (But I worked media retail in the pre-Internet Age, when these dates were inviolate. Except for the new Sinatra box when Liv Tyler or Richard Hell were asking.) It felt thrilling, of course—knowing the book was finally in readers’ hands—but because my author’s copies hadn’t even arrived yet, it also felt an awful lot like having blacked out at a wedding. “Ohmygod, you don’t remember? You were so funny and/or mean!”

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The Pixelated Novel in Bifurcation Nation

FA review tag

George Saunders’ first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, reads like confetti, like fireworks, like a snowstorm. This novel, like an image made of pixels, is a collage of intricate individual parts that, taken together, create the dazzling swirl and pulse of tenuous coherence.

Allow me to literalize: it is a story told in snatches by dozens of different narrators, most of whom are dead and dwelling in the “bardo” (a Buddhist term for the transitional state between life and death) of a crypt in Georgetown. As in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the novel’s clearest intertext, souls are punished according to their sins—one sexually frustrated man sports a massively engorged member because he was never able to consummate his marriage. Death, heaven, and intermediate states have long been a fascination for Saunders, explored in stories like “Escape From Spiderhead,” “Sea Oak,” and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.” In Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders looses his ghosts on the graveyard to shuffle through their danse macabre. Continue reading

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