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Book Review: Magic Street

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Trouble is coming, and the Bag Man is bringing it.

One fine day, literature professor Byron Williams is returning home from work when he suddenly opts to give a ratty bum a ride in his Mercedes&#8212and he’s just about rejoicing at the opportunity. Weird and out-of-character for the serious-minded professor who secretly writes poetry no one else has ever seen&#8212but that’s nothing compared to what awaits him at home. The Bag Man hops out of Byron’s car and informs Byron that his wife is pregnant. Byron is amazed at the man’s knowledge&#8212and even more amazed to walk into his house, find his other children in a tizzy, and his wife upstairs on the bed, suddenly enormously pregnant and about to give birth.

As if in some sort of dream, Byron delivers the baby&#8212and the Bag Man walks into his house, collects the child, and stuffs him into a bag. In the aftermath of this traumatic event, Byron discovers that neither Nadine nor the children remember the Bag Man or the baby&#8212he alone remembers what happened. And yet he can say nothing&#8212for who would believe that he had delivered his wife’s baby, when even she had no recollection of such a thing?

For the residents of Baldwin Hills, a middle-class African-American community, nothing will ever be quite the same again. Out playing with a friend, Cecil “Ceese” Tucker finds an infant shoved in a shopping bag. He takes the baby to a local spinster (and nurse) named Ura Lee Smitcher who ends up adopting the boy, and Ceese becomes his babysitter and authority figure. Ura Lee names the boy Mack Street. Mack grows up to be a sweet, if somewhat odd, boy, full of visions and what he calls the “cold dreams.” The cold dreams seem to be the window into the dark desires of others in the neighborhood&#8212dreams that often come true in twisted, horrible ways. When a young girl dreams of being a fish, she is subsequently found trapped inside her father’s waterbed, and he is charged with attempted murder.

No one suspects that her nearly fatal “accident” was the offshoot of an ancient magical battle between the Oberon and Gloriana, the king and queen of the fairies. Long ago, Oberon was imprisoned and rendered largely impotent by those who grew weary of his cruelty. Now he is trying to break free of his ancient bondage&#8212and Mack Street is an unwitting pawn in his plans. As a young man, Mack encounters the Bag Man and his invisible house which serves as an opening into the land of Fairy. For a time, his aimless wanderings through the land of magic seem harmless. Then a darkly mysterious “biker babe/hoochie mama,” who may have once tried to compel Ceese to kill Mack as an infant, moves into Baldwin Hills, and the darkness of the neighborhood’s dreams only becomes colder.

Magic Street is a wonderfully inventive urban fantasy from a largely unexpected source: Card’s reputation is based upon his science fiction (as well more recently, his political leanings), and here he treads upon ground more frequently plowed by say, Charles de Lint. Given the span of years the story covers (opening with Mack’s rather remarkable birth, and ending with him at 17, the focal point in a magical battle for not only dominion of Fairyland but the “real” world as well), it moves quickly and at times seems a little disjointed. But that quibble aside, there is a poetic lilt to Card’s prose, a vivid sense of imagery and the juxtaposition of the absurd, allowing the mundane reality of Baldwin Hills to become infused with unexpected magic and insight.

Inspired in part by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and responding to a friend‘s challenge to create a story with a black protagonist, Card’s characters are engaging, and the narrative is at turns fanciful, humorous, and poignant. It’s a fun contemporary fantasy that explores the idea of evil, the notion of salvation, and the purpose of good.
Edited: PC

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About Bill Wallo

  • This book review has been selected for Advance.net. You’ll be able to find this and other Blog Critics reviews at such places as Cleveland.com’s Book Reviews column.