[12 July 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
When the ringmaster of a traveling carnival dies while passing through Fluker, Louisiana, the circus troupe and the townsfolk suddenly find themselves thrown together in the strangest, as well as the simplest, of ways. M. O. Walsh’s The Prospect of Magic is a collection of ten interconnected tales told by the townspeople and the new transplants about the transformations that take place when the two tribes meet.
Each character’s voice is recognizable and distinct, and yet all seem to possess something of the same southern charm that is surely the voice of the town itself. For make no mistake, Fluker is just as much a character as Memphisto the Magician, Tall Paul, Douglas and Cherilyn Hubbard or the Phin Boys.
The tiny southern town of Fluker, once famous for its crickets, is a forsaken place on the day The World Famous Ploofop Travelling Carnival makes its final stop. Yet something special starts to happen the moment Margo the Mind Reader begins her eulogy at Ploofop’s funeral, and it has very little to do with the appearance of “elephants in the catfish ponds, midgets at the checkout, damn zebras like a dream”.
It’s the titular story that best demonstrates the magic of the way in which we are all connected. It explores the relationships of a family making its living by misdirection, and the effect a small shift in perspective can have on even someone for whom heightened perception is both a gift and a curse.
“The magician’s coat has thirty-two pockets, it is an intricate thing. Matthew knows this but does not care. His father, however, is a man with two names, and both of them care tremendously. The stern and crusty part of him, known as Lars Copper, Father of Two, does not take kindly to his son’s idea of stowing a hungry rabbit in pocket sixteen, the hidden compartment nearest his crotch. This suggestion seems to Lars only another in the long parade of evidence that his son is a lost cause, an intellect on idle. A puff of smoke that, in the end, reveals nothing.”
Of course, there is much more to reveal about Matthew, as well as all of the other inhabitants of Walsh’s world. Using both the magical and the mundane as metaphors for life, as it is, and as our protagonists perhaps think it should be, Walsh shows us that there is more magic in the ideas behind the acts and in the people behind the performers than can be found in a whole caravan of carnival tricks.
A Tartt First Fiction Award Winner, The Prospect of Magic exposes so much more than the bearded ladies, lion tamers, bat people and giants that populate its pages. Walsh’s prose peels back the screen to reveal the trick behind the illusion of “us” and “them”, thereby unlocking the magic inside the soul of each of his characters. With a sleight-of-hand brand of storytelling that reaches into the recesses of the human psyche, Walsh pulls out our every forgotten fantasy and our deepest, darkest dreams and holds them up to our amusement, our awe and our applause.