Young, Jennifer Maria
Paradidomi: magical realism and the American South.
University of Southampton, School of Humanities,
The thesis is comprised of a novel and a critical reflection. The novel component, entitled The
Mathers’ Land, draws on traditions of magical realism, storytelling, memory and metafiction.
The framing narrative of the novel follows Luanne Richardson, a librarian who has moved
South with her new boyfriend, Kenneth Miers. As soon as they arrive in Peebles, North
Carolina, Kenneth disappears. Luanne only knows that he last visited a particular house that
belongs to the Mathers, the richest family in Peebles. Luanne forces an encounter with the head
of the family, Walter Mathers. Despite her initially confrontational contact, Walter Mathers
offers Luanne a job to construct a history of his family through interviews and records. He
hopes the history will provide an answer to why his only son Eric has not produced an heir.
Luanne’s research draws her into a claustrophobic society where no one seems to notice the
frequent deaths of the wives of the Mathers family or their odd attachment to roses and a
dogwood tree, as elements of magical realism occur in the frame story. The interviews Luanne
conducts appear on the pages of the novel as fully developed stories, which draw on themes of
tradition, loss and family attachment. These themes are explored through perceptions of
memory and storytelling.
The critical reflection component considers both what methods and writings made it to the
thesis as well as what methods and writings did not. It explores the modes of construction, from
the use of Oulipian and metafictional techniques to the use of magical realism. The major
influences from specific writers are addressed in terms of structure, magical realism and
Southerness, specifically Harry Mathews, Joseph McElroy, Mischa Berlinksi, Sharyn
McCrumb, Randall Kenan, Steven Sherrill, and particularly Doris Betts. The reflection
concludes by addressing what it means to be an expatriate ‘Southern’ writer.
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