Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician

Daniel Wallace, Author . Doubleday $21.95 (257p) ISBN 978-0-385-52109-3

An inept African-American illusionist is dogged by the deal he struck with the devil in Wallace's fourth novel, a circus picaresque that barnstorms its way through the 1950s American South. Henry Walker, once the "greatest magician in the world," has been reduced to a minstrel show–like novelty act in a traveling circus. Henry's story, told by a succession of narrators—including members of the circus and a private detective—begins during the Depression, when Henry's family fell on hard times. While down and out, Henry meets and apprentices with the devilish magician Mr. Sebastian. Henry learns the secrets of magic, but his ambition and ability are crimped when his beloved sister, Hannah, disappears. The truths of Henry's and Mr. Sebastian's identities and the fate of Hannah are gradually revealed, and what appears to be a Faustian tale of a pact with the devil turns out to be something more tragic. Wallace (Big Fish ; The Watermelon King ) skillfully unravels the tale, and though the conclusion is both startling and inevitable, and Henry is as beguiling and enigmatic a character as Wallace has created, the milieu of carnies, hucksters, tricksters and wanderers isn't as sharp as it could be. (July)

Reviewed on: 04/09/2007
Release date: 07/01/2007
Genre: Fiction
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