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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Richard Matheson: NOW YOU SEE IT....

The 1994 novel by the recently-deceased author and screenwriter Richard Matheson shows him still at the top of his game in spinning a yarn of fantasy and suspense. This tale of deceit and illusion is told in first person by Emil Delacorte, an octogenarian former magician, despite that our "narrator" is unable to move or speak due to a stroke. In the years since his misfortune, his legacy as The Great Delacorte has been carried on by his son Maximilian. As this novel begins, however, Max is having trouble sustaining his career in changing times (the story is set in 1980), and is pressured by his agent Harry to start "modernizing" his traditional, old-fashioned magic show by playing cheesy Vegas lounges and adding a little sex to the act. Max's second wife, the cold calculating Cassandra (who is also sleeping with Harry), her cloddish brother Brian, and his agent, are all in some ways manipulating Max's life and career. The illusionist uses his talent and a little Grand Guignol to stage an elaborate revenge plot in order to regain control. This story takes place almost entirely in a single location, The Magic Room, a chamber in the Delacorte mansion which acts as a shrine to the elder magician's legacy, replete with set props that figure into this labyrinthine tale. Emil spends most of his invalid days sequestered in the corner of the room, gazing at the many props and pictures, to remind him of his legacy. In this instance, he is also an unwilling voyeur to all of the ensuing carnage, and is helpless to intervene (much like the reader, who only ever sees this tale from his vantage point). Naturally the scheme doesn't work out as planned (or does it?), as each new chapter commences with one new twist or double cross, and the reader constantly wonders who is the true puppetmaster of this plot. One is exhausted by the end (as much as Emil of course), and by its deliberate prose endlessly foreshadowing that "you haven't seen anything yet", complimenting the stage patter of a showman. Matheson's bouncy rhythm adds to the dark comedy, as does the inclusion of the bumbling Sheriff Plum, who shares our wonderment in what the hell is going on. This funhouse of a novel escalates into a horrific climax, even more excruciating in that the reader is a helpless spectator, much like the audience at a stage performance, and like Emil, whose agile mind is trapped in a useless body. It is to Matheson's credit that this story also depicts a vivid portrait of a stroke victim. Even though things don't always appear as they seem, and that characters don't stay dead, this virtuoso act is made credible as we see the flawed, venomous characters amidst the smoke and mirrors. Now You See It.... is a compulsively readable tale of a fantastic revenge plot that is also an interesting study of a magician's vernacular, and the mechanics involved for an elaborate stage act. And what a show Emil, Max and Matheson have put on for us.

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