Thursday, May 29, 2008

Carter The Great

Photo courtesy of The Doug Edwards Collection

The magician in the photo is Carter The Great (Charles Joseph Carter 1874-1936). He has just produced his wife Corinne from behind the jumbo cards. Carter is especially known for his elaborate version of Cutting a Lady in Half and Cheating The Gallows. He has traveled on eight world tours.

You can read about Carter in the novel "Carter Beats the Devil" by Glen David Gold.

America in the 1920s was a nation obsessed with magic. Not just the kind performed in theaters and on stages across the country, but the magic of technology, science, and prosperity. Enter Charles Carter -- a.k.a. Carter the Great -- a young master performer whose skill as an illusionist exceeds even that of the great Houdini. Fueled by a passion for magic born of desperation and loneliness, Carter has become a legend in his own time.

Carter the Great's thrilling act involves outrageous stunts carried out on elaborate sets before the most demanding audiences. Night after night, in towns across the nation, he performs these masterful feats, bringing his unique brand of magic to those starved for wonder. But nothing in his career has prepared carter for his most outrageous stunt of all, which stars none other than President Warren G. Harding and which could end up costing Carter the reputation he has worked so hard to create.

Filled with historical references that evoke the excesses and exuberance of Roaring Twenties, pre-Depression America, Carter Beats the Devil is a complex and illuminating story of one man's journey through a magical -- and sometimes dangerous -- world, where illusion is everything.

Here are some discussion questions for you and or a book club when you have finished:

1. In this case, the title of the book came from a real magic poster from the 1920s. There was never a question in the author's mind that the title was exactly what the book needed. How is the title significant to you?

2. We sometimes assume that our favorite characters would be the ones we would most like to meet. Is that true in this case?

3. The author was eager to hide any themes, symbolism, imagery, etc, within a roller coaster kind of plotline, hoping that with enough fun, the reader would hardly notice them. Brushing this misdirection aside, what sort of motifs stood out for you?

4. In a magic trick, the moment of transformation is when we know something miraculous has happened. Which -- if any -- of the central characters experienced similar transformations? Select a passage in the novel that you believe is pivotal to a character's development.

5. The novel is set mostly in San Francisco (of which much has been written) and Oakland, its somewhat impoverished cousin, a place relatively unknown. Are these settings at all evocative for the plot herein? Are you drawn to novels set in a particular time or place? Elaborate.

6. The 1890s-1920s were the so-called "Golden Age" of magic, and this novel makes the case for that era being a special time to be alive. What makes that period so appealing? In what ways does it seem knowing or naïve? Is our world right now experiencing a Golden Age in some other kind of way?

7. If you could change anything in the novel, what would it be and why?

8. Why did you choose this book? Would you recommend it to others?

9. Has this book altered your perspective on life? How?

10. When you finished reading the last page, what were you feeling?