When my fiancé was a young man, he found this book in a Salvation Army for $0.75. It had been recommended to him five years prior by his beloved high school English teacher. A Catholic school teacher recommends a book with sex, murder, and frequent, creative usage of the word fuck? Yes. Why? He didn’t think any of his kids would get their hands on it. Why not? It was hard to find. And in those days you could not order a book on the internet. But Justin found it and it eventually found its way to me.
Was this book critically acclaimed? A cult classic? A sleeper? I have no idea. I’ve resisted, day after day, the reflexive google twitch that accompanies curiosity these days. I want to look at MAGIC’s dusty, black, jacketless cover with its silver beveled title and wonder about it. That is what magic was back then; wondering about a book. I want to experience it for myself without being informed of its reception or background. That is what magic is to me.
The book is so, so good. I can’t get the mood of it out of my system, days after closing its crusty back cover. It’s about a man who wants to be loved, who wants public approval. As a child he seeks “everlasting health and strength” but fails at the football his father grooms him to play after his strong brother dies. Merlin the magician grooms him next, but his act bombs at an open mic magic show. He attempts suicide, but resurrects himself (or is resurrected, we wonder?) as a magician/ventriloquist, delivering a humorous routine with a dummy named Fats. The self-deprecating banter with Fats wins over audiences, yet Corky refuses to take the required health test to make it big with the help of an agent, The Postman. Is he hiding the fact that he’s insane, with Fats as his alter-ego? Or is Fats really alive?
I’ve created a triphopera of MAGIC in order to explore its characters and themes. Corky teaches me that it is impossible to win public love if that is our motivation for performance. Personal fulfillment, genuine self-confidence, and connection with those close to us give us a shot at happiness. Applause and accolades are elusive. The phrase within Merlin the magician’s advisory intro repeats throughout this piece: “If you do it right, they can’t love you enough.” This is a cautionary tale. “Love” of the faceless public is not fulfilling. That is helpful advice to me on the heels of being rejected from several jobs and a coveted teaching award.
Thanks to Justin Gumiran for bringing this book to my mind, and to Bob Leone for bringing this magical keyboard to my fingertips.
MAGIC: The Triphopera