Magic Realism? It’s kind of like Urban Fantasy’s posh literary fiction cousin.
Let’s say, for example, you go to work and you notice that your colleague Stan is already at his desk, hard at work. This comes as a bit of a surprise because you went to Stan’s funeral yesterday.
- If Stan is somewhat transparent and keeps fading in and out, but he’s still pretty much nailing that presentation for the TELAWKI project you were both working on, it’s an urban fantasy** and you try to keep him under wraps at least until you finish up the contract.
- If bits of Stan keep breaking off and he starts to take an unhealthy interest in your brainssss, it’s a zombie apocalypse fantasy**, and you send him up to corporate where he’ll fit right in.
- If Stan is a hologram sent by a galactic princess to steal TELAWKI’s evil death star plans, this is SciFi** and you’re probably a robot or at least a conflicted android.
- If Stan turns out to have faked his death and has come back to stop TELAWKI’s global conspiracy, it’s number 237 in the Bourne Series, and really—who cares?
- If you’re actually seeing Stan’s life as a metaphor for the hapless absurdity of modern life, it’s literary fiction**. (In which case he probably also banged your wife.)
- If nobody pays attention to Stan except to stand around bitching about the way billable hours are allocated on the TELAWKI project even though TELAWKI is the code name for The End of Life As We Know It, it’s magic realism** and Stan is an Ironic Reminder of something or other. (And, of course, he still probably banged your wife.)
- [**Unless Stan’s drinking a beer, in which case it’s probably a commercial for Corona.]
This week I’ve been reading David Bridger’s new book, The Honesty of Tigers. Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I was an early reader before the book’s final (and spectacular) edit. And even though the author calls it a fantasy, I think The Honesty of Tigers is really literary fiction with a magic realism component. And I think it’s amazing.
The Honesty of Tigers by David Bridger
What’s a man to do when his hopes and dreams and carefully laid plans are ripped apart?
Living his life again. Same person, same fishing village, same years. But this time the world shows him a different face.
Ken Jackson builds traditional boats in a small Cornish fishing town, where everyone might not have heard everything about everyone else, but if they haven’t, it isn’t for the want of listening. Which complicates matters for Ken, because he has a secret: he’s living his life all over again.
It sounds like a dream come true. He’s got the chance to make things right for his loved ones, and to avoid all his old regrets. But the past is never that simple. Ken’s second life opens his eyes to different sides of people and places.
- Title: The Honesty of Tigers
- Author: David Bridger
- Genre: Fantasy/ Magic Realism
- Publisher: Eccentrix Press
- Date of Publication: August 10, 2016
- Number of pages: 243
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Magic realism is a genre that I usually like better before and after (as opposed to during) the experience. Actually reading Gabriel García Márquez or Thomas Pynchon is hard work. Or maybe the hard work happens at the beginning, when you have to turn off all the ways you normally look at and think about the world.
But The Honesty of Tigers is different, possibly because it doesn’t serve as a satellite telescope through which we view huge events—like the Banana Massacre by the United Fruit Company that could only be told in a fictionalized version such as Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, or like Thomas Pynchon’s 400-plus character “intro” to modern times in Gravity’s Rainbow. Instead author David Bridger uses the genre as a microscope to examine the effects of one person’s life on his first-person singular world. It’s an intimate series of “what-if” moments, and the chance to see opposing answers play out.
This isn’t some It’s a Wonderful Life rehash, though. When we meet Ken Jackson—retired military hero, widower, father, pub quiz champion—his life is ending. His wife has died recently, and he’s been consumed with grief and regret. When his family and friends finally coax him to join them for one of his beloved pub quiz nights, he and arch-rival Johnny Cable make quick work of the sports trivia questions, and Ken starts to enjoy himself. But he’s caught off guard by a new question that he can’t answer.
“Which big cat,” asked Charles,”has markings on its skin that appear in an identical pattern to the markings on its fur?”
It was a new one on me. We all stared at one another, except for Natasha, who slid the paper across and wrote Tiger.”
The question about whether superficial appearance matches your true self ignites a bitter internal debate for Ken. Instead of reflecting on his successes, he’s consumed with regret and guilt for the things he didn’t do—especially for his recently dead wife—and with shame that he couldn’t match the tiger’s honesty.
“If I could do it all again, I’d do it differently. I wouldn’t join the navy. I’d stay home and get a normal job, be a hardworking husband who was there for my family. For you and the kids.”
What Ken is really asking himself and the reader is not whether he could be a better husband/friend/person, but whether he could be more honestly true to himself. “If only I could start again.” Instead, he dies. End of Chapter 1.
With Chapter 2, we start to realize this isn’t your usual story arc. Ken is back, as a baby, but one with the core knowledge and memories of his first life. His family and friends are the same, and he grows up in the same Cornish fishing village. But this time he has two advantages: the knowledge of what went wrong the first time around, and the pub quiz champion’s lifetime of memorizing sports scores and trivia. Except… In his first life, Ken saved the life of his friend Ninja when a mission goes horribly wrong. Also in his first life, Ken is unable to save his boyhood friend Billy from a horrible death. But his attempts to protect Billy go brutally wrong. And his goal of saving and protecting his wife? Well…
Readers get to join Ken in trying out different choices, telling the same story over and over with varying results, trying for that perfect endgame, that honest tiger. But as Ken stubbornly keeps trying to improve his outcomes, he finally wonders if maybe the real honesty asks for …”a third possibility: an artistic, unplanned arrangement of countless things…”
Ken ends his first life raging against the finality of death. Subsequent lives end with the knowledge that despite his improvements, he still hasn’t given his wife the honesty and the perfect life he wants for her. Ken—and through him, the reader—have had a chance to examine what it means to honestly live a life. It’s an amazing journey.
The Honesty of Tigers is a beautifully written character-driven exploration of “what if”, and I honestly think it’s the best thing David Bridger has ever written. As Ken’s story repeats in different ways, and as we join him in his search for the perfect life, we start to suspect that the only way forward is to make every possible mistake along the way. It’s an intimate story of one man’s journey, and it’s full of the passion and heartbreak of everyday life when death is just another “reset” button.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
“I want to live again…”