Thursday, September 13, 2018

Book Note: Magic Street

Card, Orson Scott. Magic Street. New York: Del Ray, 2006.

I enjoy a great many of Orson Scott Card's novels. He usually spins a good yarn, and I generally keep turning pages.

Despite the blurb on the cover—"A great read"—it took forever for me to get into Magic Street. I tried it a couple of years ago and gave up after fifty pages.

I had been told that the novel was a retelling of Midsummer Night's Dream, and it begins with a woman suddenly getting pregnant and giving birth to a baby who is not breathing. A homeless man her husband brought home takes the baby away—and the woman immediately forgets everything that happened. Later, a neighborhood kid finds the baby, which is alive and breathing at that point.

Throughout that section of the novel, I found myself wondering "Is this the Indian boy? Is the homeless man Oberon trying to take it away from Titania? Where are Hermia and Helena and Hippolyta?"

Years pass in the novel—and it feels like years are passing to the reader as well.

Finally, about a hundred pages in, things start to make sense in terms of Shakespeare's play. But we don't have a retelling of the play. We have a story with the fairy characters in the play. Titania (who is also Queen Mab) has trapped Oberon under the earth, and Oberon has trapped her soul in a lantern in Fairyland, and our hero—the grown-up baby from the beginning—has to save the earth.

The rest of the plot is pretty plodding and tedious, and the novel is very dark and often disturbing. Mack keeps venturing into Fairyland, finding a dead man with the head of a donkey. And he dreams the deepest wishes of the people in his neighborhood and makes them come true—always in destructive ways.

The last thing I need to tell you before I give you a sample is that the book is set in an African-American community in Los Angeles. Card was challenged by an African-American friend to write an African-American hero into one of his book. I can't comment on the authenticity of the African-American voices, but I do detect a certain awkwardness and uncertainty that is not characteristic of Card's other works.

Here's part of the scene where Mac gets some information out of the homeless man—Puck—from the beginning of the novel. Note: I've censored some of the vulgarities (another thing that is not usually such a prominent part of Card's books).

The novel doesn't provide much insight into Midsummer Night's Dream, choosing to tell its own story with those characters. We also don't get much insight into Shakespeare, though Puck will occasionally tell us that Titania used her magic to make Shakespeare fall in love with Anne Hathaway. But Puck also lies much of the time.

As a final note, here's what Card had to say about how the idea of bringing Midsummer into the novel—along with a bit about its being set in the African-American community:

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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