Coach House Books ($15.95)
by Marissa McHugh
There are elements of magical realism throughout Ken Sparling’s This Poem Is a House, a novel in verse by a highly regarded Canadian writer. The two main characters, a boy and a girl who do not have first names, see things that are not seen in everyday life, such as the spots of a ladybug turning into a bird. The girl is a loving girlfriend, and eventually wife, to the boy; the boy is an eccentric poet whose style of writing Sparling captures perfectly:
Because every speck of wind
coming down the hill that morning
was a different speck of wind,
yet they all came down the hill together
like they were going to a party
and not each to its own destiny.
The wind is here personified as individuals each going in a fixed direction. There are hardly any harsh sounding words in this part of the poem. Wind is so ordinary, and yet it is made to sound gorgeous and aimless in these lines.
As the boy and girl continue to fall in love, conflict follows when the boy’s father passes away. The boy seems to work through his pain by rearranging furniture in the house in odd places, such as putting the dresser in the living room. The girl tries to help him through his pain by being there for him.
In magical realism, there are often shifts in time, as is in the following excerpt:
The boy’s dad died in October.
Christmas dinner that year was baloney
Notice how the poem goes from October to Christmas without so much as a pause, and from the sad to the mundane with equal abandon. To the boy and the girl, baloney and honey might seem special since they eat mostly toast the rest of time.
Besides distortions of time, some of the passages take on dreamlike qualities. One part speaks of Jell-O seahorses riding “the waves of the bed,” taking readers to a whimsical place. Yet the book also has parts that relate to everyday life. The boy talks about leaving notes around the house to help him navigate through life: “It was like the boy set his life down / one day and then forgotten where / he put it.”
Overall, magical realism is handled well in This Poem Is a House. There are distortions of time amid a modern-day setting, and readers are taken on a magical ride with surreal elements placed in a somewhat realistic world. This Poem Is a House is the perfect read for those who enjoy the quirky and whimsical.