The whole world knows me as the man who killed Harry Houdini, the most famous man on the planet. His story is complicated, though most of it is widely known. What no one knows, save for myself and one other person who likely died long ago, is that I didn’t just kill Harry Houdini. I killed him twice.
The diagnosis of a rare degenerative physiological condition forces Martin Strauss to confront the memories he has just been told he can no longer trust, the memories that forced him into hiding as a young man and forever severed him from his unforgotten sweetheart. Now an old man, he sits with the daughter, whom he wronged long ago, and confesses the full story to her, anxious to relay his past before those memories are replaced by his addling mind with fabrications.
Martin’s story is inseparable from that of Ehrich Weiss, already known to the world as Harry Houdini by the time their paths cross. Houdini enters the novel at the brink of his world renown, while he and his wife, Bess, tour their illusions and tricks across the United States with Dr. Hill’s California Concert Company. Remembrances of the early days of their marriage and his childhood as the second son of a poor Hungarian immigrant rabbi immediately flood Houdini’s introduction, continuously reemerging as he builds his career and careens through the inclement future awaiting him and his wife. With no one else he can trust, Houdini takes Bess and their act together across the globe, all the while attempting to shield her from his infidelities, the true dangers of his crowd-astounding feats, and the peril in which his fame and choices have placed them both.
Infusing a researched fiction of twentieth-century espionage with the conflicts of family, relationships, and Jewish identity, Steven Galloway’s storytelling holds as transfixing as Houdini’s illusory tricks, employing matching mastery and misdirection as the plot cavorts between narratives and chronotopes. The Confabulist draws its audience spellbound into the adventures, close calls, and endless possibilities surrounding the most mysterious of magic men.
Nat Bernstein is the former Manager of Digital Content & Media, JBC Network Coordinator, and Contributing Editor at the Jewish Book Council and a graduate of Hampshire College.