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by Anne Ursu

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7868-6779-5

A florid and in the end pointless account of a boy’s disappearance, written by Ursu (Spilling Clarence, 2002) in a tone of the utmost gravitas.

What is every parent’s worst fear? Losing a child, of course. Ask Justin and Hannah Woodrow. A modern midwestern couple (working Mom, stay-at-home Dad), the Woodrows are devoted to their children (Greta and James) and to each other. On Greta’s seventh birthday, they all go the Lindberg Performing Arts Center to see the Razzlers Circus Stage Show, which includes a disappearing act by Mike the Clown. Mike asks for volunteers and five-year-old James runs up to the stage, where Mike makes him disappear—but not come back. A Seinfeld episode? Not really, since no one (the cops least of all) is laughing. The eerie Mike is held for questioning but soon released (habeas corpus doesn’t help much in vanishing cases), and Officer Tom Johnson has to admit that there’s not a clue in sight. It’s hard on the family, of course: Hannah sinks into depression, Justin becomes obsessed with magic and tracks down magicians to buy their secrets, and little Greta turns into a housebound introvert convinced she can will James back from the void. Eventually, Officer Johnson moves into their house for full-time surveillance, and Mike the Clown finds that his act has become more popular than ever as a result of ghoulish publicity. In the end, James returns as mysteriously as he left, and the Woodrows are happily reunited—though permanently scarred by their awareness that the worst calamity is always possible.

A mess, with a circular plot and overripe style (“How do you contain so much prose and still exist?”): the sort of story that shouldn’t have been let out of the workshop.