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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.


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