by Tamara Kaye Sellman
The Honeycomb, by Israel del Rio
Which would you pick if you were given a handful of lives to live after your own had expired? Mexico City author Israel del Rio examines such possibilities in his third novel, The Honeycomb.
The Honeycomb refers to a heaven-like place where the main character, a dead man, is given the opportunity to choose a new life after the Honeycomb's celestial keeper, John, determines that the protagonist, because he has done some measure of redemptive work in his past life, is qualified to reincarnate.
The Honeycomb itself is defined by an infinite wall of scrolls chronicling an equally infinite number of lives; it is from this wall, within a very limited period of time, that the dead man must select five for review. After reviewing them all, his fate is to choose one and assume life again.
About a third of the way into the book, it becomes clear to the reader that all the lives the man has chosen are in some way interrelated. This deems the narrative more interesting, as the reader can't wait to see how each of the lives in review intersects, and how their intersections will affect the protagonist's ultimate decision.
Another strength in this novel is the chameleon-like way del Rio captures each of the various characters whose lives are mapped out in the scrolls. The reader truly feels as if he's entered a completely new story or book when he jumps from one life chronicle to the next.
Finally, while it's not a lengthy book, The Honeycomb is a fairly toothsome read, for it resembles, structurally, a kind of literary circus for the reader, with metaphoric sideshows, a midway, carnival games, and a master of ceremonies leading the reader through all its dark alleyways.
This book is just one example, among many, of work which isn't completely and utterly magical realist (like a Garcia Marquez novel might be), but which has enough elements of magical realism within it to appeal to fans of the style. For instance, telling a story through the perspective of a dead protagonist (and, by association, all the dead people whose lives he gets the chance to relive) is standard magical realist fare as long as it doesn't assume any of the tropes of the gothic or the supernatural. Celestial characters always turn up in magical realist stories as well because they represent that "in-betweenness" that seems especial to magical realism. There is a sense of a narrative labyrinth here, too, that the protagonist must navigate in order to resolve his problem. And in the case of one of the characters whose lives is under scrutiny, the end of his existence is shaped strongly by a series of magical realist events that ring true in the Native American mythos. Finally, many people would agree that the presence of reincarnation itself is enough to boot this story into magical realist territory.
Which means that The Honeycomb ends up being rather hard to categorize, much in the same way it is hard to categorize Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist. As it happens, many writers of magical realism struggle to find agents or publishers willing to take on the marketing of such hard-to-categorize works.
In the case of this book, author del Rio opted for the route of self-publication. It seems to make sense that magical realist novelists might legitimately turn to this option, but like so many self-published books, this one contains quite a few errors within the text and could have used some additional editing to tighten the language and improve the novel's pacing.
(To be fair, I read the Kindle version of del Rio's book, and I have to wonder if there still isn't some issue with editing and formatting text for Kindle 1.0 that hasn't been fixed just yet.)
Still, I was compelled to read ahead because, despite the book's shortcomings in production and execution, the story was a wonderful curiosity that I couldn't put down until it came to a resolution.
Story Copyright © 2008 by Tamara Kaye Sellman. All rights reserved.
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About the author
Tamara Kaye Sellman is the publisher of Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism (www.magical-realism.com) and director of MRCentral.net, an interactive membership celebrating literary magical realism worldwide.