The Con­fab­u­list

Steven Gal­loway
  • Review
By – March 24, 2015

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.

Relat­ed Content:

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.

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