A Magician, a Conqueror, and a Man with One Eye

I’ve written book reviews for several different sites over the years, all of which are now defunct. This is the first in a series of mini-reviews that will parcel out some of my favourite reads over the past few years. 


CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL

by Glen David Gold

Carter Beats the Devil opens with Carter the Great executing a particularly risky trick. He murders President Warren G. Harding on stage before feeding him to a lion, only to have Harding burst from the lion’s stomach alive and well. The show is an unbridled success. But a few hours later Harding is found dead in his hotel room and Carter is considered a prime suspect. He flees, only to be pursued by Secret Service agents, most notably aging Serviceman Jack Griffin.

The novel then jumps back in time to tell Carter’s life story, of how he came to perform magic, how he met the girl of his dreams and then shot her out of a cannon to her death, how he befriended Houdini, made arch-enemies, married a blind woman, and used the invention of the electric television to propel him to heights no other magician had ever dared.

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Chasing a Novel at the End of the World

“That’s the thing about being a writer … Every bad experience you have is good material.”


Nell Stevens was just like every other twenty-something at the tail end of her education. Or, at least like every other twenty-something with a degree from Warwick, another degree from Harvard, and an MFA from Boston University. It was time to finally put all of that work, time, and money to actual, productive use. For Nell, that meant writing a novel. But there were two things standing in her way: one, she didn’t know what she was going to write about, and two, she was far too distracted to commit to anything.

But then came the perfect opportunity. She won a fellowship that would send her anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, for three months. There, she could find her inspiration and finish the novel she always felt destined to write. Her peers had chosen France for its tranquility and sense of history, New York for its vibrancy and clash of cultures. Nell chose Bleaker Island, a barren, uninhabited scrap of land in the Falklands, hundreds of miles off the southern tip of Argentina.

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This is 33: Growing Older with Nino Ricci’s Testament

I’ve been stressed about turning thirty-three since I was about twenty-five.

You see, thirty-three is largely considered to be Jesus’ age when he died. This was the year he established his ministry, rebelled against the Romans, rose from the dead, and laid the groundwork for Dan Brown to become the most unlikely gajillionaire the world has ever seen.

In short, he crushed it. He fulfilled his destiny and became the man he was meant to be (however horrid that destiny may have been).

Thirty-three has since become synonymous–insofar as the Christian zeitgeist is concerned–with a person’s figurative death and resurrection. A precedent has been set for thirty-three being the height of one’s powers, the year we tear down the walls that surround us and rebuild ourselves into something better.

It’s a testament to my Catholic upbringing and its particular brand of “gee shucks” brainwashing that I’m still so affected by its laws, taboos, and beliefs more than twenty years after I left the church for good.

Classical conditioning is one hell of a drug.

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