The Mind Reader

Jan Slepian, Author
Jan Slepian, Author Philomel Books $15.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-399-23150-6
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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Returning to the carnivalesque settings that characterize her other novels, Slepian (Pinocchio's Sister) weaves a sluggish tale from a fascinating set-up. An old woman, Annie, tells an interviewer about her girlhood. She met the young mind-reader Connie (short for Conrad) on the vaudeville circuit where their parents worked. ""You see, when I first laid eyes on that gangly boy I lost my heart... he was like, well, like golden,"" she says. Connie learns he is a true mind-reader when he's forced to replace his alcoholic father, ""The Amazing Leondar,"" in a phony psychic act. The offstage dramas and on-stage trickery (Annie explains how the act works) make the first third of the novel thoroughly engrossing. But Connie inexplicably decides to run away rather than tell his mother how stressful and depressing he finds his vocation, and the story loses momentum. He and the lovestruck Annie search out a relative of his, ""Crazy Joe,"" a cuddly father-figure who likes to make junk sculptures. Connie, who has renounced mind-reading, does it one last time to help Joe find a kidnapped child. Annie's outspoken courage make her an appealing character, but the tortured charm she attributes to Connie doesn't come through. Although Slepian tells us that Connie is irresistible, the person he shows us is rather flat and joyless--which makes his tale much the same. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)
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