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Monday, August 16, 2010

Magical Literary Novel Reviewed

Title: Houdini Pie

Author: Paul Michel
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-1934733554

Reviewed by Jim Barnes, Editor,

"This shining debut effort is the closest thing to the Great American Novel I’ve read in some time, with its Depression-Era setting and southern California hopefulness. Our hero comes-of-age amidst bootlegging, baseball, and a boondoggle involving Native American legend, buried treasure and women with shamanic powers. Paul Michel's uncluttered writing style and brilliant descriptive powers transport the reader to a time when Halley’s Comet was overhead and the world held magical possibilities."

Sounds zany like a screwball comedy from the selfsame era. And it is. (Some of the novel’s craziest material is purportedly true, according to Michel in a fascinating Author’s Note.) But what really distinguishes Houdini Pie is that Paul Michel doesn’t write zany. His prose is lean and unfussy, artful in period detail and the construction of believable characters. His third-person narration expertly deploys alternating points of view, which allows us to get up close and personal with an unusually large cast of characters. Here, for instance, is Edith, the psychic, taking in her first baseball game along with her daughter, Isabelle, who’s developed an enthusiasm for the sport (and for the Sheiks’ young pitcher, Hal Gates):
The ballpark was small by ballpark standards; fewer than four thousand seats, but to Edith it seemed enormous. The playing field was a vast carpet of grass so green it seemed painted. The ball players, in gray or white flannel uniforms, stalked its perimeter. Some swung bats at imaginary pitches; others played catch, a few made quick, sprinting forays onto the field, a dozen steps forward then back, retrieved on invisible leashes. Isabelle’s excitement was infectious as she pointed things out—the drink and peanut hawkers beginning their descents into the stands; the grounds crew laying down the white chalk lines, the black-suited umpires clustered behind home plate like a coven of witches.

Author Bio:

Michel is a veteran short story writer with dozens of literary magazine credits over the last twenty-five years. For a first novel, Houdini Pie is structurally ambitious and plotted with a clever eye for withholding information and building suspense. A bootlegging episode gone disastrously wrong early in the novel, for example, becomes clear a hundred pages later. There are incidents in which characters appear in disguise unbeknownst to us until climactic revelations. All in all, Houdini Pie is a triumph of independent small press publishing (kudos to Seattle’s Bennett and Hastings). What’s needed now—while we await another novel from the author—is a collection of Michel’s short stories."
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