Struggling to make ends meet while she finishes a thesis on Blake, Alison and her son, Cass, move into an apartment in the crumbling home of mysterious Mr. Magnus, WW I survivor and recluse. Cass gets a job in a seedy local movie theater where he's oppressed by the malicious head usher but makes friends with Maddy, a girl his own age. In time, the two establish a relationship with Mr. Magnus, begin to help clean up the detritus and memorabilia of his 90 years, discover that he is an alchemist, and take part in his culminating effort to make a philosopher's stone. Bedard's suburban Canadian setting and characters are so well realized that it's almost possible to forgive the flaws in the book's structure. Only Mahy has described the overwhelming disorder of old age with more powerful detail. The theater's decay and a neighborhood gang's menace are wonderfully authentic, while the incidents here also hold attention. But Bedard builds expectation of a fantasy component that never quite materializes, even though Cass does, for a moment, experience the horror of Magnus's WW I experiences; while the alchemy, though it provides a cinematic climax (a fire) that seems somehow to bring all Cass's problems to over-easy resolution, is itself an unresolved issue. Still, a well-written novel that should appeal to thoughtful readers.