THE ILLUSIONIST by Dinitia Smith


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 The unfathomable mysteries of sexual identity and charisma permeate this dark, meditative tale of a transsexual's murder in upstate New York, by the author of The Hard Rain (1980) and Remember This (1989)--inspired by an actual incident in Nebraska. It's a chilly October night in quiet Sparta, New York, when Chrissie, a local community-college student, first spots Dean Lily performing magic tricks at the local bar. Though the regulars can't help but gather around the magician's table, there's something about this slight, bright-eyed stranger that makes them vaguely uncomfortable. As Chrissie learns once Dean, who's been living in his truck, gratefully moves into her downtown apartment, Dean Lily is really Lily Dean--a man born in a woman's body about 20 years ago in another small town near the Canadian border. Surprisingly, Chrissie doesn't care much that Dean is physically female. For reasons this plain, boyfriendless part-time nursing-home employee can't begin to fathom, she's too strongly attracted to Dean's emotional intensity, butterfly-like elusiveness, and essential strangeness to judge him according to the usual standards. Instead, she watches uneasily as he seduces her boss at the nursing home--a gawky single mother just barely surviving in a shack outside town- -and then mischievously helps him betray his lover by setting up a meeting with the famously unattainable local beauty queen. With each encounter, Dean touches on sexual needs and primal passions previously buried deep beneath the surface of his partners' monotonous daily life--so effectively, in fact, that little time passes before one man's jealous rage and sexual terror explode to destroy Dean and devastate the people who claim to love him most. Smith's harsh but deadly accurate evocation of late-20th- century rural life almost upstages the violent drama in the foreground. Still, both prove memorable in this haunting exploration of a senseless and brutal murder.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-84329-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1997


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