I love magical realism. I discovered Borges and Calvino in college and fell in love with them. I saw Arenas’ book on a list of magical realism novels somewhere and looked for it for ages, and I was so excited when I found it at a used bookstore.
This book was so disappointing. The thing that makes Borges and Calvino and Murakami and other fantastic magical realism authors so good is that their “magic” does not feel magical for the sake of being magical. It follows some kind of logic, however twisted, and it propels the story, and it feels like it could be something that actually happens, even though it’s impossible. Arenas’ book felt magical for the sake of being magical. The first half of the book dedicates brief chapters to each of the wacky tenants of a ritzy New York apartment building and – here’s the kooky twist – their animals, who include an orangutan, stuffed dogs, and a group of dancing chihuahuas. The second half of the book connects the doorman to the animals who, it turns out, can talk and need his help plotting an escape.
It all becomes kind of exhausting, trying to keep track of which animal has which weird power and how the tenants interact with each other and what the doorman has to do with any of this, and it’s just not worth the trouble.