Over the course of a couple of nights last week, I read Daniel Wallace's novel Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician. I'm not quite sure why I got the book from the library, except that I recognized Wallace's name (he is the author of the novel Big Fish, which was made into a movie starring Ewan McGregor. I never read that book, but I rather enjoyed the movie, although how much of that is attributable to Ewan and how much to Wallace's story, I couldn't tell you). I also thought the title was kind of interesting, and might even be one that might appeal to Mr. CR.
The question that opens the book is, where is Henry Walker, the Negro Magician (the book is set in the 1950s, hence the corresponding vocabulary)? And the rest of the book is the stories of different friends (although not all of them are friendly) who each try to tell what they know of Henry Walker, who had been working with Jeremiah Mosgrove's Chinese Circus before he disappeared. Their stories are, of course, true in that they are faithfully repeating what they were told by Henry and what they thought they knew. But taken all together? How true are the stories? What do they mean?
I really enjoyed this book. I was actually charmed, and that doesn't happen often (although it has a better chance of happening when the book is around 250 pages long, which this one is). In the end it hammers home rather elegantly this question: How well do we really ever know other people? I love that question. On the first page of the novel, which is a letter (and which you should re-read after finishing the book), one of the characters says: "I think it's better to know what we can about people, to see beneath their skin, especially when it's about our own family--sometimes the most mysterious people we know."
I love that. I love being reminded that people are mysteries. I love books that remind me of it.