Among One Story’s recent list of top ten favorite short stories was a piece by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez called A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. It is the only short story included in the list to have been written originally written in Spanish. In the story, the family is facing inclement weather and caring for a sick child when the father sees something moving in the courtyard. “He had to go very close to see it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his enormous wings.”
After a neighbor tells them the old man is an angel who has come to take away their sick child, they lock the old man in their chicken coop and call for the local priest. The spectacle of the old man with wings starts drawing crowds to the house. The priest declares the man cannot be an angel. The family starts charging money for people to come see the old man and they build a new house.
When a new “freak” arrives in town, a woman who is half-spider, she becomes the new sensation in the village. The old man grows sick and is not treated well in his cage. Years later, the old man who has been kept in the chicken coop grows healthy and is let out of the cage. He eventually meanders about the house and flies away.
This piece is an excellent example of magical realism. The story focuses on the reactions by the family and villagers to this new spectacle of a man with enormous wings. They fear him, make money off him, treat him poorly, and then move on to the next spectacle. They never understand the miracle he truly represents. This is a very enjoyable fairytale.
Jim Breslin's debut short story collection features a blend of magical realism and dirty realism. You are invited to the book launch at Oxford, PA's BookPlace this Sunday, June 26th from 4-7pm. For details click here. The book is also available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.