I had a dumb moment reading this book where I thought…hmmm, this reminds me of Bahktin’s concept of the carnivalesque. Which is pretty much the same as reading The Trial and thinking Hmmm, how Kafkaesque. The joke here is that this book begins us literally in describing a carnival. The opening of the novel really is this way. It’s like the opening of Carousel, where we’re getting a lot of information, told through multiple forms and voices, bringing us into the story slowly by really showing us the world and tone we’re going to be inhabiting.
Eventually, we land on Stanton Carlisle. We flashback from our opening to Stanton’s early life where he began working with magic tricks and illusions, while also growing up in a religious household (you can see where this goes, right), and begins to develop either a preacher’s voice, a showman’s voice, or a conman’s voice. It the possibility of the diverging path that creates complications for the story. When he breaks, well, he doesn’t become a preacher, except for when he needs to pose as a preacher into do the conman’s act. He settles instead on cold-reading and medium work. He also falls deeply into the underworld of drinking, prostitutes, violence, and petty crime. What’s interesting here is that so much of the novel is not heavily plotted, except as a character study, so when we do get plot elements, they’re kind of surprising.
This nook is decidedly noir, but in the vein of a demimonde book and not an out crime novel, which was surprising to me as I read it from the Crime Novels of the 30s and 40s collection from the Library of America.