Sunday, 14 January 2018

Magic by William Goldman Review

An insane magician/ventriloquist and his bloodthirsty dummy redefine what it means to kill onstage – and off! 

William Goldman’s Magic is a fairly decent horror novel. It definitely has its faults but it’s also quite charming and entertaining in a trashy way. 

I found the book’s disjointed narrative structure to be unnecessarily messy and frustrating. The first third is written in such a way as to hint that Corky, our protagonist, is a vampire for seemingly no reason?! Obviously he’s not and it’s never brought up again so I have no idea what Goldman was thinking. Maybe the effect he was going for was a kind of literary misdirection meant to mirror stage magic craft, making you think Corky’s one kind of monster but he’s actually another? It just felt so silly and pointless. However it does effectively set the horror tone of the narrative and the police report extracts tantalisingly build up the reader’s expectations for what’s to come. 

The middle third is an overlong flashback to Corky’s early life and is by far the dullest part of the book. I suppose it’s necessary for giving Corky his contrived romance motivation later in the story but it fails to establish where he got the idea to become a magician, which you’d expect to be included in this extended origin! Instead, most of it is a dreary and largely irrelevant section full of stereotypical, clich├ęd characters – the jock, the preppy girl, the nerd – that, like the vampire stuff, doesn’t go anywhere, which is unsatisfying. 

Corky learning magic wasn’t very interesting either – there’s a huge difference between seeing magic performed and reading descriptions of the tricks! Then, just as suddenly as we were yanked back into the past, we’re thrown into the future, a year down the line, where Corky’s been transformed from a struggling magician into a successful headliner as a magician/ventriloquist with mouthy puppet Fats. Wait - where did the puppet angle come from? Like Corky stumbling into magic, it’s yet another arbitrary storytelling choice! 

And I think this is the book’s biggest failing: the lack of depth Goldman provides. We don’t know why Corky becomes a magician, how he makes the fateful decision to become a ventriloquist, why he’s unable to get over his schoolboy crush, and, crucially, we don’t know why Corky starts killing. He goes from being the archetypal nerd to a crazy serial killer and the change is bafflingly sudden and totally unconvincing. The story is compelling but Goldman is completely unable to explain key plot points to have it make any sense. 

The romance is kinda cheesy and flat and the blue humour is very dated and not at all funny but once Corky starts unravelling and Fats takes over, it becomes an engaging read. It’s also helped by being very breezily-paced, easy to read and, because of the earlier foreshadowing, the prospect of murder and madness and waiting to see what would derail Corky kept me turning the pages fast. And, as a horror fan who grew up reading Goosebumps and Stephen King, the setup of a crazy ventriloquist and his killer dummy, as goofy as it undeniably is, was appealing. 

Like other pulpy horror fiction such as Robert Bloch’s Psycho and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, William Goldman’s Magic has a strong premise that doesn’t quite stretch to book length and its execution is a bit too shallow to make it a great book. The plotting is flawed and the story isn’t consistently interesting but Corky is a compelling lead character and the book overall is competently written with momentum and enough intense scenes to make it a fun read worth checking out for horror aficionados.

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