Diego Gerard Morrison makes his own magic in ‘Pages of Mourning’

The author, who reads at Two Dollar Radio HQ on Thursday, May 16, set out to ‘rupture’ the literary genre of magical realism and instead came to an uneasy reckoning with it in the process.
Diego Gerard Morrison
Diego Gerard MorrisonCourtesy Two Dollar Radio

Diego Gerard Morrison said his father was so obsessed with 100 Years of Solitude, a classic work of magical realism by Gabriel García Márquez, that he built his life around the novel, even giving his own son a name that he shared with 19 characters in the book.

Growing up in this environment instilled in Morrison what he described as “a childish or immature loathing” of magical realism, a genre he interrogates more fully in his new novel, Pages of Mourning, recently released by Columbus-based indie publishing house Two Dollar Radio. 

“With the current political climate in Mexico and the crisis of forced disappearances, magical realism seemed dissonant with the actual crisis we’re going through,” said Morrison, making note of the more than 100,000 people who have gone missing in Mexico, with many of the disappearances linked to corrupt state officials and organized crime units, and especially drug cartels. “Much of the magical realism in the Mexican and Latin American canon is about dead people coming back to life. And I found that a stark juxtaposition with the number of people who have been disappeared and are unlikely to return or even be found. And this was a big catalyst in getting me to think about the idea of rupturing magical realism.”

Pages of Mourning centers on the character of Aureliano Más II, a struggling Mexican author who is wrestling with memories of familial grief and his love/hate relationship with magical realism, which bends sharply toward the latter. The novel opens in 2017, three years after the true-life (and still-unsolved) disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College. Aureliano is attempting to write a novel that reflects both this tragedy and also the loss of his own mother, who disappeared when he was a child. As the narrative unfolds, readers get glimpses into the inner worlds of Aureliano, his father, and his aunt, all of whom continue to mourn Aureliano’s mother. 

This sense of grief permeates nearly every page of Morrison’s novel, fueled in part by the lack of closure afforded those whose loved ones have gone missing. “I was trying to expose the current zeitgeist of Mexico, where we have people living with grief because of forced disappearance, but also a split grief, because you can’t really start mourning when there’s no body or no ritual to attend to,” said Morrison, who will read from Pages of Mourning in an event at Two Dollar Radio HQ on Thursday, May 16. “I wanted to show … that to mourn it is important to see someone has died, rather than living with uncertainty and maybe expecting their return.”

As a result, even when something more detached from reality takes place in the novel, it happens in those moments when the narrator is in an altered state, either under the influence of alcohol or other more illicit substances. And a harsh sense of reality pervades throughout, with some people disappeared and others left behind and fighting to overcome writer’s block, crippling addiction and the weight of an unreconcilable grief.

While Morrison set out with the idea of “rupturing” magical realism, over the course of the novel, his central character gradually, grudgingly begins to accept that there's an undeniable power inherent in the genre – an evolution the author said he experienced on his own terms, as well.

In writing the book, Morrison said there were multiple points when seemingly fantastical occurrences led him to grapple with the divide that can exist between the circumstantial and the supernatural. One of these occurred early in the writing process, when an earthquake struck Mexico City as Morrison worked in 2017 – the geological event taking place on the precise month and day as the massive earthquake that struck the city in 1985. A second, far less ground-shaking incident later took place when Morrison sought out a needed caffeine boost to give himself a jolt as he wrote. 

“The second section [of the novel] takes place in the mythical town of Comala, which is where Juan Rulfo’s novel [Pedro Paramo] happens,” Morrison said. “I was running out of coffee at home. And so, I had to go and buy some at the local grocery store. And the guy who sources the coffee for the store was there in the store. And it turned out to be one of Juan Rulfo’s children. And from that moment on, I was like, okay, maybe I should just keep writing and see what comes out of it. … I wanted to capture that idea of trying to work against magical realism, but then I was constantly being caught up in it in some ways.”

In addition to the Rulfo references, there are myriad literary connections woven throughout Pages of Mourning, with Morrison making allusions to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Walt Whitman and even his own, earlier work.

“I started reading stories I’d written many years ago, and I began to realize that if I wanted to talk about magical realism, I also had to invoke the ideas of time and time fluctuation and time circularity,” said Morrison, who described his practice as existing in a state of constant dialogue with those writers he grew up reading. “I wouldn’t say that I go as far as appropriation, but I definitely work with other texts. … Writing becomes more interesting to me when I can be in conversation with authors I admire from the past. That’s always been a part of my process, and I don’t foresee it changing anytime soon.”

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