The Magician’s Lie

9781402298684_p0_v2_s260x420Do you watch a magic show enchanted by the impossible, or are you judiciously trying to figure out how the magician does it – trap doors, hidden wires, false bottoms?  Greer Macallister reveals a few secrets in The Magician’s Lie as the Amazing Arden tells her story.  A mystery and a murder – did she chop her husband in half in a purposely failed trick, or is she a victim of a relentless and cruel stalker?

I once had the opportunity to interview a real magician who performed the appropriate card tricks and a little mind reading.  All deception and misdirection, he told me.  Of course, if you want to believe in magic, you will, but if you are certain that sawing a woman in half on stage could never happen, you will find the flaw in the act.

In The Magician’s Tale, Macallister sandwiches her thrills with too much angst and rambling description in between, as the magician tells her sad background to her captor, a wounded policeman.  Like a good magician, Macallister misdirects the action but Arden’s long-winded story has too many distractions.  The real action happens at the beginning and at the ending grand finale, with the mystery solved and happy ending for all – except the dead body, of course.

The Blue Book

9780544027701_p0_v1_s260x420A. L. Kennedy’s Blue Book requires concentration and patience. With so many strange tangents, the story shifts dramatically and often, so that you may think you are reading the first chapter of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. But, if you persist, you will be rewarded.

Three characters drive the action: Beth and Derek, who are on a week-long ocean cruise, and Arthur, whom they supposedly meet for the first time in the queue to board the ship. Kennedy soon reveals that Arthur and Beth are old acquaintances and sometime lovers, with Derek unaware of a rival onboard. Beth and Arthur worked together as a theatrical psychic team, using numbers to communicate stage cues to each other; knowing this before you begin to read may help.

As Derek languishes in his cabin with seasickness, prolonged by Beth’s scuttling his seasick pills to keep him there, Arthur disappears into his suite on the concierge level.  Beth splits her time between Derek in the stifling sick room cabin, and Arthur with his complimentary butler, with a few forays to the buffet in between.  Although this may sound like a Marx Brothers farce, the humor is subtle and the overwhelming emotional baggage they have all carried on board floats up.

Kennedy’s wry humor reveals the characters’ innermost thoughts with her stand-up comedy timing.

“…you don’t want to get married, not you – marriage, that’s an institution – since when did you want to spend life in an institution?”

 and she addresses the reader with off stage soliloquies that draw the reader in as a fellow conspirator.   When Kennedy’s unreliable narrator digresses from the plot in the middle of the book to address “you,” the reader, I wondered, as you may – how did she know that about me?  Like reading a horoscope, each reader can be sure a part of the message was meant for him or her, and confirms how Beth and Arthur could control an audience with their participants’ expectations –  “…we live in stories…”  The narrator also subtly offers hints to the emotional journey that the main characters are experiencing, that only makes sense at the end, when Kennedy neatly brings all the mysterious plot lines together – as well as explaining the title – with yet another surprise.

When interviewed by John Williams for The New York Times – A Couple At Sea: A. L. Kennedy Talks About the Blue Book –  Kennedy defined the plot:

Two people decide to trust each other enough — and themselves enough — to love each other properly and be honest and to use all of themselves to be with each other. That’s the interior plot. The exterior plot is: “There are three people on a boat, one woman, two men — go figure.”

Despite my initial confusion, I kept reading and connected to Kennedy’s philosophical quirks as well as the work of keeping all the plot lines in my head.  Her ending was satisfying.  If you decide to read this book, find a quiet place to focus on it, with no distractions – maybe an ocean cruise.

The Night Circus

Magic is better when you don’t try to figure it out, and, of course, when you believe.  In Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern invites you to suspend belief and run away with a circus like none you’ve ever seen.

Two magicians, in a duel to decide who is better, create a contest with their students as the pawns in a game of illusion, manipulation, and wonder.   Marco, the orphan protegé of Alexander, and Celia, the young daughter of Prospero the Enchanter, are committed by their patrons in a test of skill and endurance.  The rules of the game are unknown but must be played to the finish.  The night circus is their venue, a place that travels mysteriously to open unannounced only at night, with circus acts that play on the imaginations of its customers.

As Marco and Celia create new attractions for the circus spectators, the night circus becomes more intricate as well as fascinating: the ice room with fragrant transparent flowers, the wishing tree of candles that never melt, the bottles of fragrances that transport to another place.  Like any circus, this one also has traditional acts  – the contortionist, the animal trainers, the fortune-teller, the illusionist.  But the actors in the night circus are not acting; they all have special gifts, and they never age.

When Marco and Celia fall in love, the game changes – especially when they learn that one must die before the game is declared over – unless they don’t play by the rules. Morgenstern adds murder and mystery to the magic, and a few ambiguous philosophical mutterings that might make you cry or laugh, depending on your own mental state when you read…

“I am tired of trying to hold things together that cannot be held…Trying to control what cannot be controlled.  I am tired of denying myself what I want for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what we do.”

“It is not that bad to be trapped somewhere, then?…                      I suppose it depends on how much you like the place you’re trapped in…and how much you like whoever you’re stuck there with…”

With a mix of mystery, romance, fright, and morality, and a lot of magic,  The Night Circus is a story to get lost in and appreciate for the places it will take your mind and the illusions you may not want to decipher.