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Tricks and treats52 Ways to Magic Americaby James FlintFourth Estate 999 pp320James Flints first novel Habitus was a giant sprawling innovative book that wove together diverse and surreal narrative threads and revealed the author as talented and ambitious if not always in complete command of the sheer bulk of his material In his second 52 Ways to Magic America he has narrowed the focus though not the ambition here his big ideas are contained within the scope of a more linear narrative the story of one mans attempt to follow his dream to Las VegasMarty Quick has been performing magic tricks since the age of nine primarily as a means of distracting himself from emotional pain as his mother was dying of cancer his glamourous American uncle Harry presented him with an antique copy of Jarretts Magic and Stagecraft Technical and filled his head with dreams of showmanship and all its glory in AmericaThe dream sustains Marty through a dull suburban adolescence to the finals of the Young Magician of the Year competition at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield There he walks away with the title and a new girlfriend Terri Liddell a Princess Di lookalike who becomes his assistant through seasons of touring decidedly unglamorous venues until a chance encounter with Terris double in Blackpool introduces a new and dangerous element into their act and their livesFlint quotes the nineteenth-century sage Robert-Houdin whose observation that a conjuror is an actor who plays the part of a magician captures the essence of Martys dream Stage magic as a metaphor for our willingness to be deceived and all the attendant themes of illusion and reality has been popular in fiction - one thinks of Robertson Daviess World of Wonders or more recently Glen David Golds Carter Beats the Devil - and Flint has painted the backdrop to his story with a fine eye for detailThe round of boarded-up seaside towns and shabby little theatres that
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