Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

s t .   p a u l ,   m i n n e s o t a

Photo by bill alkofer      Cover illustration by XL-Color Digital Imaging--copyrighted material


"Peter Damian Bellis has a most original and compelling style." ~ Joyce Carol Oates

"A real display of virtuosity -- these stories sail across landscapes armed with mystic
charms, finely tuned detail, and enough grittiness to take the paint off your car.
A genius of the unexpected, Peter Damian Bellis comes of age as a writer here."
~ Jonis Agee, author of Sweet Eyes and Bend This Heart, two New York Times Notable Books

Click here to read an interview with the author ~
Toward A North American Magical Realism
(4 pages)

Or, click to read this selection from the author's collection,
One Last Dance With Lawrence Welk and Other Stories ~


A B O U T    P E T E R    D A M I A N    B E L L I S
"FOR MOST of us, the day-to-day affair of living is not magical," writes the author of One Last Dance with Lawrence Welk and Other Stories, "but the spark that keeps us moving forward reflects a faith or hope or commitment or connection that is magical."

Peter Damian Bellis asserts that "all great writing must grapple with this paradox. For the realist, the answer is psychological. For the determinist (which is not to say religious), the answer is ontological. And for the magical realist the answer is somewhere in between."

He knows about being in-between, having lived a childhood of Minnesotan winters and Floridian summers. It was his immersion in this duality of place that very well may have inspired Bellis to become a magical realist.

His definition of magical realism is consciously loose and open to geography: "Magical realism is fiction which makes the magical or extraordinary seem normal by viewing the same through a prism of the everyday, the familiar," he says. "Another way of looking at magical realism is to say that it is fiction that explores our very human search (even need) for the miraculous, the ecstatic."

By his definition, there are many more authors who have written works of magical realism than the official category seems to acknowledge. Bellis says that his greatest literary influences include Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner and García Márquez as well as two classic North American authors, Hawthorne and Melville, who he contends were "really our first magical realists."

However, he cites a broader range of authors and works which he considers influential: "anything by" Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes (The Campaign), Ben Okri (Stars of the New Curfew, The Famished Road), Derek Walcott (Dream on Monkey Mountain), Alvaro Mutis (Maqroll), Bernardo Atxaga (Obabakoak), R. K. Narayan (A Tiger for Malgudi), Toni Morrison (Beloved, Song of Solomon), Mario Vargas Llosa (The Storyteller), Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses), Isabelle Allende (The House of The Spirits).

Most of the authors in this list herald from points far and away from Bellis's North American stomping grounds, but this doesn't stop Bellis from asserting that North American authors -- and British authors, to a certain extent -- have contributed far more to the landscape of magical realism than is widely perceived, even as he acknowledges that most of the world's magical realism does not seem to come by way of North American authors.

"The world of the magical realist seems at once more primitive and more passionate, and in truth, most magical realist fiction comes from cultures thought of as primitive or grounded in superstition when compared with the progressive, technological marvel that is the American urban landscape," he points out.

Bellis adds that "the American magical realists focus for the most part on ethnic or rural cultures or the cultures of other countries. Robert Olen Butler writes about Vietnam. Toni Morrison and Alice Walker write about African-Americans. Lawrence Thornton goes to South America."

But he also makes an interesting point: "Mainstream modern urban/suburban America, which is what too much of our nation's literature reflects, is left curiously out of the mix."

Why has this happened? Bellis has a theory -- that is, that contemporary creative writers have moved away from more traditional storytelling forms. "The truth is that the magical realists do a better job of capturing the essence of what it means to be human than do contemporary writers more concerned with what it means to be contemporary," Bellis states. "Too many of our American writers have forgotten that the role of the writer is to reinterpret the myths of our culture and breath into them new life, and hence new meaning.

"The writer is the shaman, the bard, the mystic who reveals to us the truth about our relationship to God and the world and each other," he says. "If this role is neglected or forgotten, then we are robbed of an understanding of our very soul, and that is what I think has happened in America."

To make his point, Bellis quotes the poet Wordsworth, "who saw the same thing happening in the England of 1807:"

I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

"For me," Bellis says, "the magical realist approach provides these glimpses."

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"First Dance With Peter Damian Bellis: Toward a North American Magic Realism" ~ An Interview

About River Boat Books

About One Last Dance With Lawrence Welk and Other Stories

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