Agustin Aguilar’s Leonora Come Down and Maintaining Magic and Reality in Magical Realism
Franz Kafka begins The Metamorphosis with a clear and crisp sentence that makes a promise as to what kind of book the reader has opened:
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
Kafka and Babbitt-two writers who deserve to be compared more than you might think-introduce their works of magical realism in ways that make promises and ease the reader into the unique world of the novel, a place so like and unlike our own. Ms. Babbitt slyly hints toward Tuck Everlasting‘s immortal characters, subconsciously inviting the reader to think of the nature of time on the very first page. Herr Kafka, of course, does what he can to make it very clear that, guess what. Gregor’s a bug. That’s what’s happening.
Authors make promises to the reader; not only are these promises with respect to plot and subject matter, but with respect to tone, as well. In his new novella Leonora Come Down (published by Los Angeles’s We Heard You Like Books), Agustin Aguilar must make promises; he must establish the right tone and he must guide the reader as he or she departs their world and enters the one of his creation. Let’s see what he did with the first couple paragraphs:
In terms of subject matter, Mr. Aguilar evokes the earth and history. His narrator adopts a tone that is highly detached from the characters and evokes the kind of entertaining grandeur that you find in many classic works. Say…The Bible. Stuff like that. I felt a similarity between the tone of Leonora Come Down and that of The 1001 Nights, the classic stories first written during the Islamic Golden Age. These are some of my favorite stories; they were passed down over countless generations and bring with them an inherent sense of weight and meaning. Compare the opening of Leonora Come Down to that of the opening of the narrative of The 1001 Nights:
Mr. Aguilar creates his own world within our own by adopting some of the tone and conventions of works that have shaped our own understanding of literature and the world around us. Leonora Come Down is the story of a boy named Arturo who befriends a pyramid. Mr. Aguilar seems interested in documenting how those around Arturo respond to such an unexpected circumstance. In this way, Mr. Aguilar reminds us that an idea is not enough; the idea must affect characters in some way that leads to some kind of new status quo.
Think of it another way. Are you particularly interested in reading a book for which the pitch is: “there’s a gang war in New York City?” Maybe, but you’re much more likely to want to read a story about: “Michael Corleone, a young man who loves his mafia-tied family, but wishes to have a life outside of organized crime, but must compromise that position once violence takes that luxury away from him.” Right? See how the the character is the true “hook” of the work? Arturo and the titular pyramid must deal with the residents of Wiskatchekwa, and those residents must adjust to its most recent neighbor-and its only one made of stone.
Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Aguilar creates a mythology for his unique world by borrowing from the mythologies of others. (Which is how culture and mythology, food and literature and everything else on the planet works.) The pyramid, of course, evokes thoughts of the Nile Delta…Arturo is given the honor of cracking a piñata…”Wiskatchekwa,” of course, is a reference to indigenous peoples and the town itself seems to me to be imbued with “traditional classic American culture,” whatever that may mean. Blending cultures and mythologies in this way makes the novella seem more timeless and plants it in the same league as other works that are the result of endless curiosity and the desire to use storytelling, that most innate of desires, to entertain and explain the secrets inside us and in others.
BONUS: Read this Nate Ragolia review of Leonora Come Down from As It Ought to Be.