The Mayan Magician and Other Stories by Jim Musgrave CIC Publishers
reviewed by Peter M. Fitzpatrick
"There's still time for you to wake up and use your infinite minds and forget your lousy peepholes."
This collection of twenty-six short stories will have you laughing out loud and perhaps even finding tears rolling down your cheeks. It is powerful fiction that can catapult you right into the center of situations both modern American and beyond. The soul of the misplaced body of a young Iraq war soldier cries out from beyond the veil. A young meth-addicted girl gives voice to her entrapment and lurching attempt to escape. A bankrupted sub-prime mortgage investor is rescued from alcoholic ennui by mysterious bird-women who call to him from the sea.
Musgrave manages to hit quite a few contemporary targets with a subtle hand. He likes to assume the viewpoint of the weak, the unpowerful, and the disenfranchised: the horrible isolation of an autistic child's mental anguish, the Falun Gong member of mixed race stuck in Communist China, and the strange and terrifying power play between a sexual psychopath and his intended victim. These are just a few instances where the humanity and pathos of normally hidden and silent ranges of existence are given powerful and moving voices by the author.
The author has an innate feel for the absurd. It can be in the negative sense of nothingness that a lonely train passenger feels when witnessing a suicide-by-train. But this author is too kind and creative to dwell very long on simple existential angst. His characters may well be mired in postmodern complexity. They meet it head-on. A sixty-eight-year-old street salesman outsmarts the spirit of Death to save the life of a nine-year-old boy. The soul of a retired baseball great really does enter the soul of a cat who then brings good luck to his family.
The powerful and corrupt are given an artful and effective send-up in this book. Throughout all the wit and ingenious invention that makes this collection such an enjoyable read is an intrinsic sense of moral courage. The surface of things he portrays are perhaps surreal and absurd. Deep down inside the stories, however, glimpses of a purpose, rather strong intimations of meaning, start to emerge. The effect is powerful and stirring.