cover image Millroy the Magician

Millroy the Magician

Paul Theroux. Random House (NY), $24 (437pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40247-3

The baggy latest from Theroux ( Chicago Loop ) is both satire and love story, by turns bilious, brutal, gentle and grotesque. Millroy is indeed a magician, but one whose ambitions reach far beyond the crowd-pleasing tricks he performs in the tatty fairground tent where we first meet him. He intends to conjure up fame, fortune and a new identity somewhere between Jimmy Swaggart and the Frugal Gourmet as he promotes a new digestive religion for middle America based on healthy, biblically inspired and, above all, fiber-filled eating. Like John Harvey Kellogg in T. Coraghessan Boyle's recent The Road to Wellville , Millroy plans a literal purging of America, and in a barnstorming transcontinental roadshow, related by his accomplice and amanuensis, teenage runaway Jilly Farina, Millroy sets about spreading the word to the constipated faithful. In his phantasmagoria, Theroux gives us America as carnival with the prayer meetings, the sideshow and the superstar. By the end, ironically, Millroy suffers from a surfeit: unlike the magician, Theroux rejects restraint of any kind, and his satire of America's culture of consumption rambles beyond most readers' appetites. But even if the novel is overstuffed, its larger-than-life hero is a notable new recruit to Theroux's growing gallery of memorable obsessives . Author tour. (Jan.)