Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today. There is of course, for most of us, the memory of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, with its extraordinary opening sentence (which, legend had it, came into his mind as he was driving out of Mexico City with his family for a much anticipated vacation — it’s said he turned the car right around to head back home and begin the book, family furious, though 40 million copies later I’m sure they’ve forgiven him). But for me even more affecting was a story that appeared in the New Yorker in 1978. It was called “Eyes of Blue Dog.” It was one of those literary encounters that shows a young writer how vastly many more possibilities there are for literature than he or she had even begun to consider. I always liked his short work best: No One Writes to the Colonel is a great book. In March 1983 the premier issue of newly revived Vanity Fair arrived: those early issues (pre-Brown) were extraordinary. The March ’83 issue (shout out to editors Richard Locke, Pat Towers, Wayne Lawson and Don Guttenplan) contained among other treasures (such as Edward Said and Tim Page with two essays on Glenn Gould) the entirety of Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I thought it was the best thing he’d ever done and I still think so. His Nobel Prize acceptance speech is also a great piece of literary criticism, on the implications of so-called “magical” realism.
And if you want to know where it ALL began (as the Firesign Theater people used to say, only they thought where it all began was “back on the isle of Lesbos”) — where magical realism, that is, began — read the very great Juan Rulfo’s short novel, Pedro Páramo, and his brilliant short stories, collected in The Burning Plain. These two short volumes are the only books Rulfo ever published. They are overwhelmingly good, in the classical sense, the sense in which we think Sophocles is good.