Deal Me In, Week 47 ~ “The Invention of Robert Herendeen”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Invention of Robert Herendeen” by Steven Millhauser

Card picked: Nine of Diamonds

From: The Barnum Museum by Steven Millhauser


According to Amazon, I purchased The Barnum Museum on December 21, 2011, probably with birthday money. I bought it for “Eisenheim the Illusionist.” This was a bit before my interest in magic was completely aflame. I had enjoyed the movie The Illusionist which came out in 2009 and I remember being happy that I could finally read the source material.

According to Goodreads, I started reading The Barnum Museum on April 17, 2012. I had intended to read it during the spring edition of Dewey’s Readathon, but I didn’t get to it. Honestly, I don’t remember when I finally read “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” but I loved it. And then of course, I put the anthology aside, as I often do with anthologies. When I picked it up again, I started at the beginning. The first story is “A Game of Clue.” I could not get into it. And I put the anthology aside again. I was a little disappointed. One story was *so* good. The other…not so much. My enthusiasm for Millhauser waned. Part of the reason I joined Deal Me In was to get through The Barnum Museum, hell or high water.

And that is pretty much a boiled down version of how I feel about Millhauser’s stories. There are a few that rank as some of the best I’ve ever read.  And some go down that road of vague literary fiction that makes my head hurt from frowning too hard. “The Invention of Robert Harendeen” kinda straddles the line for me. The story is narrated by Robert Harendeen, a man with an extraordinary imagination who can’t settle on finishing a project or sometimes even beginning one. No profession suits him and his parents are getting a little tired of him living at home. So, Robert decides to test the limits of what his imagination can truly invent. It’s much more than he expects… The story, especially the beginning, is full of the rich, baroque details that I love from Millhauser. Unfortunately, the end veers into a surreality which weirdly doesn’t work for me after the solid, visual reality.*

* This will now lead me to internally debate why grounding in reality is necessary in a supernatural story, but I find it off-putting when reality meets the surreal. And where does magical realism fall in all this? Something to chew on in the New Year.

Deal Me In, Week 46 ~ “The Last Vanish”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Last Vanish” by Matthew Costello

Card picked: Eight of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Review: There is an uneasy interplay between magicians, their secrets, and mentoring. Obviously, if magicians truly never told their secrets there would be a lot fewer magicians in the world. All the novices would be continually reinventing the wheel. But jealousy isn’t unknown in the profession. What happens when the young wannabe makes good and become the success the master never was?

“The Last Vanish” tells such a tale. Tommy Fina is a young magician who has become famous for his Chair Illusion. A volunteer is seated on a chair on casters, covered with a satin sheet, spun around three times, and disappears. Gary Hayes is one of Tommy’s mentors, a washed up magician left to play the Catskills. Tommy feels a mixture of disdain and fear when dealing with Gary and his peers. The young man doesn’t understand how Gary’s career could have gone so flat and also realizes that he could be Gary in a few years with a bad turn of luck.

When Gary asks Tommy about the Chair Illusion, Tommy doesn’t tell. But the Amazing Gary Hayes is going to make a comeback filled with regret and revenge.

Obviously, with its direct magician themes, I enjoyed this story quite a bit. Doesn’t hurt that Costello is a pretty darn good writer. I like his style enough that I’m interested in reading a full novel by him.

About the Author: A couple of weeks back, I read a story by F. Paul Wilson for Deal Me In. If Wilson has a partner in crime, it’s Matthew Costello. The two created FTL Newsfeed for the Sci-Fi Channel in the early 90s (back when the Sci-Fi Channel was what it said on the tin…) and co-wrote several novels. Costello’s biography in the anthology makes special note that Costello is the writer of the “bestselling interactive CD-ROM game The 7th Guest.” The amount of nostalgia contained in one man’s biography is astounding.

Is This Your Card?

Speaking of nostalgia, I had a card trick for the eight of spades, but I need material for next year! Instead, one of Copperfield’s most famous vanishes:

I was eight years old when this aired and was duly impressed. Thirty-one years later, some of it seems pretty hokey, but I’m still impressed by the showmanship of it. It’s a pretty ballsy illusion.

Review ~ Magic And Mystery

Magic And Mystery: The Incredible Psychic Investigations Of Houdini And Dunninger

This is a review that could easily partner with Monday’s post about books exposing the techniques of fraudulent spirit mediums.

Houdini, the most famous magician ever, had an interest in spiritualism throughout his career. He and his wife, Bess, did a mentalism routine for a while before he, like many magicians, realized that his audiences truly believed he had supernatural powers when such mind-reading and seance magic were part of the act. Houdini became a very vocal crusader against spiritualism and kept scrapbooks of mediums and exposures.

Joseph Dunninger was the Darren Brown of his era. His career spanned from the 1920s to the 1960s, overlapping Houdini’s by some years. He was an amazingly popular mentalist, known for his radio show and for his own efforts to educate the public about the ways mediums can take advantage of audiences. The first section of Magic and Mystery is Dunninger’s edits of Houdini’s scrapbooks, at least as far as I can tell. The authourship of this volume is a little hazy. The second section are some of Dunninger’s own recollections of visiting notable mediums and spiritualists.

Magic and Mystery is light on exposure. Tales are told in a couple of pages with a quick “It was, of course, done like this…” denunciation at the end. My edition is lacking a picture/illustration section. I have a feeling that it was cut for cost, but the manuscript wasn’t re-edited.

To get a feel for Magic and Mystery, here is Joseph Dunninger with a few exposures:

My Edition: Weathervane Books, 1967, hardback
Genre: nonfiction, magic


Deal Me In, Week 45 ~ “Natasha’s Bedroom”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Natasha’s Bedroom” by Robyn Carr

Card picked: Queen of Hearts – The last heart of the year!

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination

Thoughts: Robyn Carr is perhaps the only non-speculative fiction writer in this anthology. She is, in fact, a writer of romances. (I’ll leave aside whether romances should be counted as speculative…) This has also been the sexiest story. Tasha is a painter and a recent widow living in Scottsdale, AZ. After months of grieving, she begins to paint a mural on the wall of her bedroom: her deceased husband standing amid a field of desert flowers. Unfortunately, the image of her husband never quite comes out right. In fact, it seems to shift and change to become a different man. Then one night, the man steps out of the mural…

Worry not. This is not one of those disturbing tales like Joyce Carol Oates’ “The Hand-Puppet.” Instead, it gives two lonely people connected by Tasha’s paintings a potentially happy future together.

Is This Your Card?

Review ~ Hangsaman

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

Cover via Goodreads

Natalie Waite, daughter of a mediocre writer and a neurotic housewife, is increasingly unsure of her place in the world. In the midst of adolescence she senses a creeping darkness in her life, which will spread among nightmarish parties, poisonous college cliques and the manipulations of the intellectual men who surround her, as her identity gradually crumbles.

Inspired by the unsolved disappearance of a female college student near Shirley Jackson’s home, Hangsaman is a story of lurking disquiet and haunting disorientation (via Goodreads)

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite books. Period. Having reread it back in September (for the third or fourth time), it still chilled me and I still found interesting bits to chew on. That’s probably why I gave Hangsaman over 200 pages before I gave up on it.

Hangsaman was Jackson’s second novel, published eight years before Hill House. Both novels deal with paranoia concerning being a group outsider. Both novels are about the place that a young woman is expected to take in society versus her suitability for that role. Many of Jackson’s works deal with these issues and are probably reflective of her own personal concerns.* The difference is in Hill House Jackson uses the trope of the haunted house as a framework for investigating these issues. No such framework exists in Hangsaman. We are left adrift in the mind of Natalie Waite and it’s hard to find *that* to be a compelling story. Jackson does one better in her next and last novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s pretty much a full-on modern Gothic. To me, Hangsaman feels like an early foray into dealing with these issues of identity.

I’ve lately read a few comments about this book along the lines of “lots going on/hard to unpack/I think I’m missing something” and I think that’s because there is no roadmap for experiencing Hangsaman. Some readers might like that; I like it better when form can help clarify the message.

* The missing student is revisited in several of her short stories as well. Personally, I can understand Jackson’s fascination with that story. As a woman, wouldn’t it be nice to leave all expectations behind? But without society’s expectations, do women simply disappear?

My Edition: 1951, Farrar, Straus and Young, hardback
Why did I choose to read this book? Enjoyed other works by author; Book Smugglers readalong

Deal Me In, Week 44 ~ “Snow”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Snow” by David Copperfield

Card picked: Ace of Clubs

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Review: A sentimental tale about a boy, his grandparents, and the very simple illusion of snow. It somehow avoids being schmaltzy.

About the Author: That’s a pretty short review, but it was a pretty short story. David Copperfield? He’s not known for being world’s greatest writer, but I appreciate that he put a little something of himself in these anthologies. There are certain kinds of “vanity” projects that I actually really respect. Those are the projects that are kind of outside a celebrity’s usual milieu, but really are something that the celebrity is interested in. With only a handful of stories left in the two Copperfield anthologies, it seems to me that David Copperfield is genuinely interested in speculative fiction and was willing to bank some of his credibility to maybe get a reader or two more into the genre. I can get behind that.

Is This Your Card?

A trick from Copperfield’s Las Vegas Strip neighbors.

Review ~ The Bullet Catch

This book was provided to me by Henery Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Bullet Catch by John Gaspard

Cover via Goodreads

Newly-single magician Eli Marks reluctantly attends his high school reunion against his better judgment, only to become entangled in two deadly encounters with his former classmates. The first is the fatal mugging of an old crush’s husband, followed by the suspicious deaths of the victim’s business associates.

At the same time, Eli also comes to the aid of a classmate-turned-movie-star who fears that attempting The Bullet Catch in an upcoming movie may be his last performance. As the bodies begin to pile up, Eli comes to the realization that juggling these murderous situations — while saving his own neck — may be the greatest trick he’s ever performed. (via Goodreads)

I read the first Eli Marks mystery, The Ambitious Card, last August and enjoyed it immensely.  I was impressed by John Gaspard’s use of magic and a magician character in a mystery. Eli is a working magician. He has gigs and he practices his craft, but he’s not Houdini or the Great Merlini. When any part of his sleuthing is reliant on some knowledge derived from magic, the reader has already been made familiar with the concept. After reading a few other magician mysteries in the past year, I realize how difficult gracefully imparting expertise can be.

I’m not generally a follower of series, but I was excited about The Bullet Catch and also, of course, a little apprehensive. Would it be as good? I’ve suffered a couple let downs this year due to overly high expectations. Would this be another? Considering how much I enjoyed the Minneapolis-St. Paul setting of The Ambitious Card, would the movie sub-plot be taking me to Hollywood?

A couple of tricks into The Bullet Catch, I knew all would be well. There is, it seemed to me, more magic in The Bullet Catch thanks to movie subplot. Eli’s classmate Jake has been cast as the once famous magician, Terry Alexander, who meets a tragic end while performing the one trick in magic that may honestly be death-defying. Eli is hired as an unofficial magic consultant by the actor to make sure all goes smoothly on a movie set that is everything but smooth. Gaspard has directed and written about low-budget movies and brings that expertise into this novel as well. Happily, the shooting (of the movie variety) remains in Minnesota.

In general, the mystery in The Bullet Catch is a little more down to earth than the plot of The Ambitious Card. It is maybe even a tiny bit more mundane, but I think that works well. Gaspard also introduces the intriguing Mr. Lime, whom I hope we see again.

Publisher: Henery Press
Publication date: November 4, 2014
Genre: Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? Second in a series, a series I enjoy!

ripnineperilsecondThis is my fourth and final read for R.I.P. IX!