Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Art of Disappearing

The Art of Disappearing / Ivy Pochoda
New York: St. Martin's, c2009
311 p.

This a perfect title to review after my week long absence from the blog ;) Although my disappearance was not as exciting or unusual as the characters' in this book, being only a regular busy time.

This is Ivy Pochoda's first novel, and it features Toby Warring, a magician whose dream is to get to Las Vegas, and Mel Snow, a travelling textile designer; the two cross paths in small town Nevada, and end up marrying two days later in the Silver Bells All-Nite Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. The atmosphere of the story is full of mystery, glamour, love & passion, reality vs. the imagination, and just a little bit of sadness as well. The idea of illusion permeates the book, but Toby's magic is a little more authentic than other performing magicians. While Mel realizes that he is a real magician, so does a guild of old magicians living in seclusion in Amsterdam.

They invite Toby to join them, but he turns them down; that is, until his confidence in his own powers causes his big breakthrough performance to turn into a tragedy. Toby and Mel flee to Amsterdam to recover themselves, and their relationship. Toby's longed-for salvation reveals itself, taking the form of a final and irresistible magical apparatus in the home of the mysterious magician they are staying with. Unfortunately, the pull of the apparatus, The Disappearing World, is stronger than any other for Toby, upsetting Mel and causing her to wonder about their future together.

The book is set primarily in the deserts around Las Vegas, with the contrasting watery world of rainy Amsterdam appearing in the second half. The descriptions are wonderful. Some of the images are as impressive as the landscapes Toby conjures from sand; they seem real and three dimensional, and create a real place in the imagination. I found this descriptive skill one of the highlights of the book.

Various odd and magical things happen all around these two, always. Toby, who is a real magician, meets Mel, who hears fabrics speaking to her -- she really does, it is not just a fanciful metaphor. Mel's brother was a water baby who finally disappeared into the ocean as an adult, and his particular story is revisited throughout the book as well. In Amsterdam, they meet a group of designers and artists who are just as bohemian, unexpected, and unusual as the failed magicians who hide themselves away.

Unfortunately, I felt it was an overabundance of riches; a first book with everything crammed into it like an overstuffed magician's bag of tricks. There is so much fancy in it, and yet it seems to be set in a perfectly realistic world. I had trouble throughout my reading, as I couldn't tell where to put this book. It has blurbs from literary authors, and seems to be presented as a literary novel, and yet it feels more like a speculative novel, following some genre conventions. Plus the cover somehow reminded me of the Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz, and I just couldn't get that out of my mind. Also, the layers of Toby's imaginative worlds which he inhabits as a living being started to confuse me. Which one was real? I am guessing the point of those worlds was to highlight the illusion that was a theme of the book, but it just started to tire me out. This was a book that I really wanted to love, but just didn't. I read it to the end and saw a lot of interesting potential in her writing; I would easily try again with her second novel when it appears.


  1. I have never heard of this book before. It is probably not something I would read, but sounds like it has potential.

  2. Kailana - I had high hopes, but was disappointed. Just not to my taste, I guess, as I know others who have really enjoyed it.


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