Skip to main content

Occasional Media Consumption: Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey

My niblings and I were talking, during our week-long vacation/family reunion together, about the experience of unreliable narrators. This was during our discussion of another book, and of course we talked about Catcher in the Rye, and how when I first read it as a tween I was so taken in by the experience, and how much I loved it, and how as I've grown older I've come to love it less and less. And a big part of that was realizing that every book that has a narrator, by definition, has an unreliable narrator, because books told from a point of view by necessity take on the position of the person telling us the story (which is different from the author telling us the story, obviously, but that's what parenthetical disclaimers are for, right?). So the experience of various narrators suddenly turning out to be unreliable is a trope that maybe I've outgrown in my old age. If you're going to be honest with anyone, you can be honest with me, dear narrator.

So how refreshing to have Sarah Gailey's Ivy tell us up front: she's not trustworthy, but for this length of time, anyway, she's going to try and be truthful with us, if maybe not so much with herself. Because that's where, unreliable narrator tropes aside, lying gets into trouble: what happens when you start lying to yourself? And how a single lie, a single choice, can snowball rapidly out of control into something bigger than anything, bigger than life, and so uncontrollable that the only recourse is to blow yourself and your life up and hope you can escape in the confusion and wreckage.

The thing is, Ivy isn't incompetent; she isn't bad at what she does (she's actually pretty good at it, in fact). But she's not good at this one particular thing, and that's her soft place, the place where the tooth was, the place that hurts to poke and yet you can't stop poking at it. And this book is full of that impulse. The impulse to poke, to find that pain and feel it, in the hopes that maybe, if you poke it enough, it won't hurt any longer, or at least you'll get used to it.

In Magic for Liars, Gailey gives us the most difficult of all writer's challenges: an AND. Because this book is not just a fantasy book about a person who knows magic is real in a world that denies the existence of magic; it's a fantasy AND a murder mystery. So everything has to follow both sets of rules, in order to avoid cheating the reader. And Gailey does it expertly and brilliantly while ALSO giving us a narrator who constantly and consistently bullshits through the world inhabited and defined. Ivy is trying to find the truth in a world where reality itself lies, and not just truth; she's trying to find justice, which itself may be the biggest lie.

It's a journey and a search that's worth a little self-deception.


Popular posts from this blog

JoCoCruise: Remembering the Feeling

We drove up to Seattle, because there are no direct flights from Portland to Fort Lauderdale, but there are from Seattle to FLL. Here's the tricky bit: the nonstop Alaska flight from SEA to FLL is a redeye. It arrives at 6AM local time in Florida. Programming note: this was not a great idea.

I'm just too old to do redeyes; I can't sleep and I can't go without sleep and this makes me very, very cranky. Our next trip out to Fort Lauderdale will have to be done differently, for sure. The flight had several mechanical difficulties which resulted in us not taking off for more than two hours, including 90 minutes sitting on the tarmac at the gate while they double-checked everything to make sure things weren't going to break. That was actually fine with me; the longer we waited to take off, the later we landed. (I have a whole bit in my talk about Support about five nines and moving parts and the 737 so I'll spare you the repeat and let you watch it yourself here.) M…

Occasional Media Consumption: Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire

The most amazing thing to me, in a book filled with amazing things, is that McGuire never addresses the title choice of the book, and yet it was perfectly, brilliantly obvious from about a third of the way in. No, I won't spoil it; I'm not an asshole. But it is amazing, and exactly appropriate for the story being told. There are a LOT of things being juggled in this book. Pairs of characters. Solo characters. Histories. Magic. The modern world. Alchemy. The hidden corners everywhere in the world, and some of the people who live there. And the places that exist in the social unconscious, that are there but not there any longer.

It's hard to talk about this book without spoiling it, because many of the choices the author makes are so outside the norm of the genre that to give them away is to take away from the ingeniousness of the move itself. But in the same way, I've also read several books that leverage exactly the same tropes and choices in similar ways, to great and…

Nerdy Ninth: James Spader

So ages ago, my friend Curt rolled out the idea of "Nerdy Ninth", which is where we take the ninth day of the month every month to unabashedly talk positively about the things we like. It's a positive-feedback-only idea - no yucking other people's yum, and if you have something good to say, say it with enthusiasm. If the thing being discussed doesn't roll up your socks, then skip it; go play in your own sandbox if you wanna lay turds. I like it: it gives people the space to be positive about stuff, which sometimes in modern nerditry isn't something that happens often. It was a big thing on G+ for a while, and now that G+ is going away I'm going to try and drag that over into my own blog for a chance to talk about things in a positive way. So here's a Nerdy Ninth post to get started.

This month for Nerdy Ninth I'm going to go back to my roots and talking about something I like (in this case, someone):

James Spader.

James Spader has always been an odd…