Dybek: I shy away from a term like magical realism because it somehow implies to me that I read Marquez and decided, well, I'll take some of these supernatural elements and graft them on to what I've been working with. And in my case anyhow that is not the way it came about at all. It came about more out of a feeling like this:
You're walking down a street, Twenty-Fifth Street say, and right on the corner there's a candy store and a bunch of kids are coming out of it. They're arguing about candy, calling each other sonofabitches. On the other side of the street there's a tavern. You can hear the jukebox music, and you see someone sneaking in for an early drink. Coming towards you is someone eating a bismarck, dripping jelly on their shirt, and there's a whole bunch of cars, guys cruising up and down, gunning their engines. A truck is going by, loaded with something that's making a clanking sound. And then there's a church. In it, a bunch of old ladies are saying the rosary in Polish--or in some language that you think might be Polish, you can't exactly figure out what it is--and there's this smell in that church that smells like something out of the fifteenth century. You look up. It's Lent. There are these crazy statues standing there with their eyes bulging with all kinds of weird visions, except now they've got purple shrouds over their heads. That jump from walking off that street and into that church and then back out again, I think, has made my style the way it is. After that, you read Kafka and you say, "Oh my God! Of course, I understand this." Or I read Ed Hirsch's poem about his grandmother's Murphy bed, that when she folds it back into the wall it's like putting away the night. I see that if I'm writing about my grandmother, who really believed that the dead came back and needed to nibble breadcrumbs off her table, then maybe instead of saying, "My grandmother thought so and so," I could have a dead person, in the middle of the story, sitting at her kitchen table.
From an interview on Artful Dodge - more here. Stuart Dybek is the author of a particularly wonderful short story called Pet Milk that is a set text for the students I tutor at Massey. Every year I get more out of it, and this year a student wrote a great essay on Pet Milk complete with a link to this interview. What a find!
I am a big fan of magical realism in fiction and Dybek's explanation is as good a reason as I can think of for why...