Maddeningly uneven--like much of Pesetsky's work (The Late Night Muse, 1991; Confessions of a Bad Girl, 1989, etc.): the story of an orphan who becomes a thrice-married professional magician and of the jealous cousin who tries to ruin her. Raemunde Howard, abandoned, is shipped from Chicago to a six- room apartment in Washington Heights, where she stays with grandmother Minnie Howard and cousins Carrie and Lila. If the three girls sometimes join forces against the grandmother's hostility and the indifferent world, that evaporates soon enough, and the novel begins with cousin Carrie writing to a scandal sheet, volunteering to ``tell all'' about Raemunde, who has transmogrified into ``Miz Magic,'' host of a children's TV show. The scandal-sheet editor eggs her on: ``Real secrets about women are always sexual.'' Rae's story--told first by Carrie and then by Rae herself--begins with her practicing ``that magic of hers like a nut.'' That magic is her forte, in fact, and though Carrie deprecates it in her correspondence with the editor, Rae herself exults in it: ``Once you do fortune-telling, it sticks to you''; ``The first time I heard someone call out Miz Magic, I felt as if my identity had suddenly appeared.'' Pesetsky's attempt to use such magic-making as a metaphor for writing is her strong suit here. Too often, though, the story rambles and veers as we learn about the men in Rae's life and about her rise from exuberant weekend magician at birthday parties and insurance receptionist to world-famous Yiddish magician. Pesetsky's seventh book is a sometimes brilliant cross between the ethnicities of Grace Paley and the theatrics of Ellen Gilchrist--at other times, it's hurried and episodic, more an outline-still-in-progress than a finished novel.