Background on my new story: “Just Perfect” (or why I believe we all live in a Magical Reality)

This week, Hamodia‘s Inyan Magazine published my new short story (and it’s actually for adults!), entitled “Just Perfect.”

The original version of the story was explicitly a piece of fantasy, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I transformed the story into an example of magical realism rather than fantasy in order to address the concerns of my lovely and knowledgeable editor at Hamodia. 

In the original version, then called “Easy as Pie,” the transformation of Libby’s life occurred after she bumped into a little old lady who offered her a slice of peach pie at a party. The pie made Libby’s life–well, just peachy. But my editor felt the little old lady was a little unbelievable. Could I cut her? The only problem was that her brief appearance at the beginning and the end of the story explained the wacky events in between.

I wracked my brains for a way to ditch the old lady but save the rest of the silliness. There had to be an explanation for it, after all. I did a bit of experimentation and research. Finally, I decided that maybe Libby should just pray–and then G-d answers.

Even after I found my “magically real” solution, I initially balked at making the change. It was an elegant solution, so my reaction puzzled me. I had to think about it a lot, and I think my conclusion is worth sharing.

Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende made Magic Realism popular, but Jewish literature has long been littered with its own examples of the genre:

  • Baal Shem Tov stories where the BeShT travels long distances in the blink of the eye,
  • the miraculous appearance of Elijah the Prophet/the magician in I.L. Peretz’s “The Magician,”
  • all the unlikely coincidences in I.B. Singer’s books, including Enemies: a Love Story,
  • and contemporary work by Michael Chabon, Dara Horn, Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Strauss.

With all these precedents, why didn’t I want to latch onto the solution at hand?

Here it is: I think that all observant (not necessarily Orthodox) Jews live in a “magical reality.”  It’s not fiction; it’s our daily experience.

According to the Rambam, the laws of nature and those that rule the “supernatural” are the essentially the same. The only difference is that the former are observable by human senses, while the latter are not.

When observant Jews pray, we take it for granted that Someone is listening and responding. When we look at the events of our lives, where others might see random coincidence, we see patterns, evidence of a Guiding Hand. There’s an entire world of unseen forces described by mekubalim, experts in the hidden knowledge of the Torah. For this reason, when I wrote that Libby’s prayer was heard and answered, I took the story out of the realm of the fantastic and put it more into the realm of everyday experience. I was also afraid that I might be making light of prayer, something I take very seriously.

Have you ever written something that seemed “fiction” or “fantastic” to readers, but seemed all to real to you? Please respond in the comments.

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