Reality Check (Deptford Trilogy, Book 1, Initial Thoughts)

Debby: New book! What do you think so far?

Tim: I like it. It’s playing a little slow, but it feels like it’s going somewhere. I’m not sure how much of that to attribute to the narrator, but I’ve enjoyed getting to know this little Canadian town so far.

Debby: I was ready for you to say “it’s rather tedious”. I like the narrator, but really? You feel like it’s going somewhere? Dunstable (Dunstan) Ramsey is writing a letter! What a ridiculously long narrative for someone to read! And why are all these details so important? I don’t mind the story, but I’m frustrated that the author felt compelled to set the whole thing within the context of a letter.

Tim: Huh. That didn’t bother me at all. In fact, because it’s a letter I’m more patient with it. It’s a promise to the reader that these details will be meaningful, and that there’s a reason for everything we find here. It’s a literary crutch, maybe, but at least so far it’s a personable one. But what I’m most intrigued by is the promise of something truly out of the ordinary. There’s a heavy emphasis very early on about Ramsey’s predisposition for myth in his later years, and then we get little tastes of mysticism with his practicing magic as a boy, and then with Mrs. Dempster’s healing of his brother. When people have asked me what this book is about, I’ve been telling them I think it’s magical realism, but even with the limited amount of magic that name implies, it’s seemed a little heavy on the realism so far. Which makes me think it’ll launch into more magic any moment now.

Debby: It’s funny, really. I’ve used the same terminology, “magical realism”, to describe the book. Yet, I’ve almost felt deceitful doing so because nothing I’ve read in the book truly supports the term yet. Back to your letter-as-a-promise-for-a-payoff theory: I don’t like it. Letters are useful tools when they convey pertinent information, not when they spell out an entire history. I’m a little further along in the book than you, so maybe that is why I’m slightly more antsy. The author almost seems to be toying with me (the reader), providing tiny hints at magic that I try to attach some significance to… before whisking the narrator Dunstan in an entirely different direction.

Tim: Yeah, it’s weird. The book I’ve been thinking most about while reading this is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is an entirely different sort of book, particularly given that this one doesn’t seem to employ any sort of alternate history. But like its more fantastical counterpart, Deptford seems to treat its world as though…well, as though it just IS. Those fleeting snippets of the magical don’t need focus, because of course such things exist. Or at least they do to the narrator. When he thinks his brother is dead, he runs to Mrs. Dempster for reasons that can’t be explained, and it works. The rest of the town marvels, but while it’s an important moment to Ramsey, he doesn’t seem especially surprised that such a thing might happen in the world.

Debby: Really? I think the fact that the town thinks he’s crazy points to just the opposite. I just don’t think magic is an “accepted” reality in Deptford. But I can see Dunstan being much more open to unexplainable phenomena.

Tim: Yes, and that’s kind of my point. For the town, magic would be an impossibility. I’m pretty sure one of the preachers even tells the young Ramsey that miracles no longer occur in this day and age (meaning the early 20th century). But while the actual occurrence of magic is something to note for Ramsey, it’s not something he believes couldn’t happen. It’s not a conversion to the belief in magic’s possibility. That’s all I’m really trying to say.

Debby: Sure. I see what you’re getting at. I just would like a little more magic, personally!

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