In his debut comedy, Ostrow takes readers on a meandering, satirical journey through the justice system, American-Jewish culture, and the perplexing life of a small-time magician.
This tongue-in-cheek story follows Irving Flax, a magician who hasn’t made it big. Magic is Irving’s lifelong passion—he mixes performance with owning and operating a small magic shop in upstate New York—but he can’t avoid the trouble it gets him into, from domestic drama to ill-advised professional entanglements to more serious dangers. Irving’s life is a series of misadventures, but they come to a head when he foils a convenience store robbery with a flashy fire trick. While briefly lauded for his heroism, Irving finds himself brought up on charges for carrying a concealed weapon, assault with a deadly weapon, maybe even attempted murder. And that’s just the beginning. The novel moves quickly and unpredictably, bouncing between Irving’s central, present-day challenges and scenes from his past and family history. The story even makes time to tell life stories of seemingly unrelated characters, all to set up the punch line of how they intersect with Irving’s strange, small world. Replete with comic asides and a rich cast of curious characters, the book reads more like a Woody Allen film than the average novel. Parts of the story feel dated, with a number of tricks and jokes relying on Polaroid cameras, slide projectors, or other outmoded artifacts. The plot also calls for a strong suspension of disbelief, considering how many frauds and scam artists could be exposed through the use of, say, a Google search. But these anachronisms usually aid the absurdist exaggerations and humor; as the book itself says when describing a record player: “It is an obsolete technology but, perhaps, it’s a bit more romantic.” Some of the humor may also fall flat for readers more concerned with political correctness, as it does invoke stereotypes and other broad-comedy tropes. Nevertheless, it’s all in good fun, and fans of older stand-up routines will feel right at home.
A charming, funny piece of Americana.