THE MAGICIAN’S LIE by Greer Macallister
The Magician’s Lie, the title alone portends an unreliable protagonist and arouses intrigue before we open the cover. Then debut novelist Greer Macallister drives our curiosity into full bloom with an opening that is its own magic show.
Tonight, I will do the impossible. The impossible is nothing new to me. As I do every night, I will make people believe things that aren’t true […] I will weave a web of beautiful illusion to snare them, a glittering trap that drags them willingly with me into the magical, false, spellbinding world.
We see no smoke or mirrors. Instead, we experience a magical pulse through the words Macallister selects. She is a temptress of words. At times she understands that which grows simplest grows best.
They sit together in silence, two figures in two chairs on the fringe of the circle of lamplight.
Simple, yet provocative. Other times she indulges our senses.
Here every smell was on top of every other, good or otherwise. Garlic and perfume and manure. Silk and smoke and mud. Voices come to you the same way: a trilling woman’s soprano shouting out the price of oysters, overlapping with a Sicilian shopkeeper’s dusky accent and two German teenagers arguing at full volume, blotting out a whispering grasp of Irish girls on their way to work.
But she never goes too far because, like her protagonist (the Amazing Arden) the smoke, the mirrors and the slight of hand is rooted in her character and drawn on only when the need arises. Macallister offers an invitation we can’t resist and we follow her without hesitation or doubt.
Arden is one of the strongest female characters around. She defies the odds at the turn of the century and rises to the top of the masculine world of magic. The obstacles she needs to surmount to reach such success are delivered to us in her own words after she is arrested for killing her husband. The murder allegedly carried out on stage during her incredible trick of sawing a man in half. Whether she is lying about the events that led her to this moment, or telling the truth doesn’t matter. At least, it didn’t matter to this reader because Arden’s determination to stand against all opposition, without hesitation, is an inspiration. My empathy for Arden was so complete, I never believed I could turn away from her, even if she ended up being despicable.
Another reason we latch on to Arden’s strength has to do with how powerfully Macallister delivers vulnerability.
Pouring cheap gin on top of today’s news and tonight’s gore has hollowed him out like a rotten stump.
This passage is from Virgil Holt, the officer who arrests and interrogates the Amazing Arden, and the other Point of View character, in The Magician’s Lie. Arden’s and Virgil’s point of views are designed to secure our objectivity as the facts of the case unfold. But the beauty of these opposing forces lie in how they keep us on a tightrope of tension, wondering what is true and what is false. This two-person point of view is also where the real magic of the novel happens.
I only blinked on occasion, because when a powerful woman who smells of rosewater instead of dung tells you to stay still, you know everything depends on how still you can stay, and for how long.
One person’s control over another is at the core of every riveting piece of fiction, and Greer Macallister delivers by adhering to her protagonist’s advice.
The novelty of being a woman would get audiences in the theaters once, but I needed to handle them just right once they were there.
Macallister keeps us hooked by showing us how Arden gains and loses control of her life through the unexpected twists that occur, again and again. Each shift of power expertly interwoven with the inner turmoil of the characters.
He stands up and turns his back so she can’t see his face. It isn’t fair. He has all the power and none of it. The ceiling seems lower than it did an hour before, the room, smaller, though he knows that’s not possible. So much is riding on this night. He can’t afford to lose control.
The Magician’s Lie may be Greer Macallister’s debut novel, but she is no novice. Like the Amazing Arden she spins a story that challenges your powers of observation.