three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-Mr SebastianIt’s May 1954 and Henry Walker, once a magician of great power, is performing a comedy act in blackface as part of a traveling circus in northern Alabama. One night, after being confronted by three white teenagers who take offense at Henry’s act, he disappears. With his fate unknown, Henry’s circus friends speculate about his mysterious past. The stories of seven different narrators, including Henry’s colleagues and a detective, gradually reveal the tale of the once-great conjurer—who may have learned his magic from the Devil.
Doubleday. 272 pages. $21.95. ISBN: 038552109X

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"From no fewer than seven points of view, Wallace examines the life of a chameleon of a man and, in an impressive feat of writerly prestidigitation, looks at one man’s search for redemption through the disparate lenses of those who remember him. … It is a story of the fabulous, one that freely mixes the real and the desired in equal parts, so that the reader never knows quite what to believe." Robin Vidimos

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"A story within a story, when told well, can be very seductive. And when it is retold by different voices, with variations and twists and turns, the story can be mesmerizing. That’s the case in Daniel Wallace’s intriguing new novel." Jim Carmin

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Daniel Wallace … plays with stories the way magicians play with cards. In Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, Wallace employs enough tricks to fill both sleeves, his pockets and an old trunk that seems to be levitating backstage." Bob Minzesheimer

Rocky Mountain News 3 of 5 Stars
"Wallace’s characters are quirky and memorable, and his tinkering with magical realism is fascinating. … Despite the plot messiness, Wallace, author of the best-selling novel Big Fish, creates a circus of characters whose depth and quirkiness are worth exploring." Jennie Camp

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"If it all seems dreamy and unbelievable, it’s supposed to. Wallace’s structure is its own parlor trick. … The revolving narration makes each fragment of Henry’s story true for the one who tells it, yet when truth itself remains a perpetual illusion, a book can teeter on the verge of sophistry." Sheri Holman

Critical Summary

Daniel Wallace is best known for Big Fish, a clever tale about a son’s search for the man behind his father. Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician uses some of the same fictional ruses but tackles the far more troublesome issues of race and hypocrisy. A few reviewers found fault with an extremely convoluted plot and some extremely unreliable narrators. But most praised Wallace’s unique characters and unpredictable plot twists. "In the end," concludes the Portland Oregonian, "we learn that nothing is as it appears to be, which is what this fine novel is really all about."