Categories should not act like straitjackets, yet the label of magical realism has sometimes strangled rather than liberated Latin American literature. I’ve written a novel that I think might fit that genre. Even then, “Signal to Noise,” my first novel set in the 1980s and which follows three misfit teenagers in Mexico City who cast spells using vinyl records, feels aesthetically removed from the quaint vistas of small-town Mexico. post-revolutionary that most people associate with magical realism. The rest of my work jumps wildly in tone, and “Mexican Gothic” owes a debt of gratitude more to the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga, who followed in the footsteps of Edgar Allan Poe, than to any of the Latin writers. Americans of the boom.
Last year, I asked David Bowles to translate “The Route of Ice and Salt”, by José Luis Zárate, into English, publishing it on my own micropress. Written in the 1990s, it’s an erotic and bizarre reimagining of Dracula’s voyage to England aboard the Demeter, told from the perspective of the doomed ship’s captain. I myself published this short story in English because I was surprised that it had not been done before (it had been translated into French before). Maybe it was ignored by English speakers because it was written by a well-respected but not necessarily best-selling Mexican author, but I suspect its vibe – deeply gothic, lush horror – might as well have make it distasteful to editorial tastes. Maybe it just wasn’t the magical realism publishers expect from Latin America.
In my experience, the term magical realism is often overused and stereotyped, spoken about without much thought. It’s not the only term I don’t like. I’ve also heard my work called “telenovela-like,” which I find unappealing because other writers’ dramatic work wouldn’t be called a soap opera, even when great disasters might befall the protagonists. Therefore, Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Lapvona” – described as “a blend of fairy tale and folk horror” in The New York Times Book Review – is not a telenovela, but “Mexican Gothic” becomes one. . People default to the label telenovela as they default to magical realism for a similar reason: because it’s an easy designation and because it’s associated with Latin American aesthetics.
I wish we had more nuanced and complex conversations about books. Why can’t we speak in expansive terms of gender and aesthetics? What about mood and texture? About things that fit into categories and things that defy them? “Tender Is the Flesh”, a novel by Argentinian author Agustina Bazterrica about a future in which humans are bred for meat consumption, is a sci-fi novel, but it may also be horror — there’s a long tradition of cannibalistic horror novels, after all — and its tone is sometimes satirical.
The conundrum of magical realism will not be solved quickly or easily, but I believe that a wider selection of books by writers of Latin American descent can help guide us towards a world in which our view of this region is larger and richer. It is happening, albeit slowly. Ms. Enriquez, for example, makes her debut in an English-language novel with “Our Share of the Night,” out next year in the United States. I checked its category on the Penguin Random House website: it’s listed under “Gothic and Horror”.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the best-selling author of “Doctor Moreau’s Daughter” and several other books. She has won the Locus and British Fantasy Awards for her work as a novelist and the World Fantasy Award as an editor.