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Book Report: Magic Street

Well, and Orson Scott Card annoys me. Not just as a person and a commenter on public affairs, in which capacity he is probably no more annoying than, say, Dennis Prager or Michelle Malkin or a dozen others. I don’t read that stuff. Therefore, it doesn’t annoy me.

No, I’m more annoyed by how well he writes and what he writes. I mean, the man writes like a sonofabitch; I don’t think I could name anybody currently writing whose sheer ability I like as much. I fall into his books and get enveloped in them. There’s enough surprise, there’s enough character, there’s enough plot (usually), and there’s something I can’t really define or properly describe that has something to do with a story arc, a continuity, a sense of through-ness that keeps me at it. Or perhaps it’s balance. There are people who are better at individual aspects, but there aren’t any aspects (that I care about, anyway) where Mr. Card stumbles. There isn’t anything in the book that kicks me out of it, that bothers me, that reminds me that it is, after all, just a book. Unless, as often happens, the whole book sucks. And that’s annoying.

Magic Street, fortunately, is one of the good ones. There are some things that clink a bit. In the first chapter, an African-American professor of Romantic Poetry does a little bit about authenticity that is supposed to disarm the reader’s natural suspicion of a white fellah’s writing a book where all the characters are African-American. Well, all the human characters, anyway. But that’s soon over, and at least for me, I was able to forget about the whole issue until the book was over and I could think about it critically. Of course, I’m a white guy from a white neighborhood. I’d really want to read a review by Walter Mosley, and see what he thinks. Has anyone got his phone number?

Ultimately, I think the book suffers from being about the setting, rather than about the plot. The plot is good, and all, and is sufficiently strange and fantastic that we can’t be sure what is going to happen next. What are the real limits of Puck’s powers? Does Mab really care about anything but herself? Will the prophetic power give Word or Mac an edge, or is that all controlled by Oberon? But then, the final outcome is not as urgent as the exploration of the setting, of the neighborhood, and the way the people work together. It’s Hatrack village, after all. I don’t mean that dismissively, or to indicate that this book is unoriginal. The creation of the village is a magnificent achievement of Mr. Card, and he creates here another village, totally different but still unmistakably bound by the kind of connections and tension that Mr. Card sees. But ultimately, it’s just the setting.

One more thing, as Lt. Colombo says. The term in the book for a human possessed by a fairy is a pony. The body is ridden by the fairy. But ... look, I grew up in the desert, and I know nothing about ponies. When I rode as a kid, I rode a horse along a desert trail (but the horse had a name). But my association with pony rides is that the child who rides the pony goes around in a little circle. The whole thing is ... constrained. Small. The connotation, to me, of calling a possessed human a pony is of the rider constrained, perhaps by some third entity controlling the whole thing. Maybe that was on purpose, but I didn’t catch it. Or, of course, maybe my connotations are idiosyncratic, and once again there’s a cultural thing I almost get, but not quite.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


Perhaps the usage of pony is also intended to capture the canonical child's desire for a pony, not for any particular purpose but just because it's the thing to want. I want a pony. I have no idea what I'd do with one, I probably wouldn't treat it right, I doubt it would improve my life, but I still think I want one.

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