Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace

There is precious little that can be said about this book without spoiling some or all of it. But if Vertigo taught us anything it’s that sometimes, even if you know where you’re going to end up, you still want to know how you get there. Here we go.

Henry Walker, an African-American magician (who may or may not be African-American) now fallen on hard times, is haunted by the Faustian deal (if that’s really what it was) he made as a 10 year-old boy with a mysterious man man who introduced himself as Mr. Sebastian (who may or may not have been the devil incarnate). This is a story about magic–stage magic, tricks with cards and doves and fire–so nothing is as it seems. Not even the magic.

In true Daniel Wallace fashion, the story is not so much told as it is shaped out of things done and left undone. The truth of Henry Walker’s life probably (possibly) lies somewhere between the different versions of the story of his life–stories he told and which are now retold. Rudy the Strong Man’s story parallels and overlaps with JJ the Barker’s story and Jenny the Ossified Girl’s story, which shape out some of Henry’s past, and a late-arriving private detective with a story of his own succeeds in clearing away the last of the fog and mirrors. But it may be too little too late, as Henry himself has disappeared (so think, then, of the tales told at a funeral).

It’s a Southern gothic fairy-tale, told in many voices, complete with a traveling circus, magic (which may or may not be real magic), and a deal with the devil (maybe). But this is no magic trick itself. There is no illusion at its end.  Rather, we learn how the trick was done, which breaks the spell.

Then there is only a stripping away, a sad decay that reveals plainness and ordinariness under peeling paint.

The illusion is that there was an illusion at all.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Daniel Wallace will be visiting the West Regional Library on Thursday, November 13 @ 7 p.m.  Click here to register.

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