Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician is a fantasy journey that asks more questions than it answers, but the journey is so mesmerizing that it makes the story worth the confusion.
Henry Walker is a magician in the American South
of the 1950s. Once a great magician who captivated the world with his hypnosis,
illusions, and almost supernatural powers, he has fallen on hard times. He can only find work at cheap carnivals and third-rate circuses, particularly Jeremiah Musgrove’s Chinese Circus. How he acquired these mysterious powers and how they disappeared, leaving him an absent-minded shell of his former self, is the story behind this mystical journey.
Henry’s story unfolds through the multiple points of view of his friends:
Rudy, the Strong Man; JJ, the Carnival Barker; and Jenny the Ossified Girl. Each tells Henry’s story contradicting various details so that the reader doesn’t even know the truth. This unusual narrative is like an oral tale that captivates
its listeners even if they don’t believe the details.
Wallace’s characters are amazing. Henry is impressive as an inquisitive young boy playing with dangerous magic, then a man driven by success and dark ambitions,
and finally a faded old man with a few tricks up his sleeves. His narrators are well-written characters in explaining Henry’s story and their involvement. The two most enigmatic characters
are Mr. Sebastian, a sinister character who may or may not be the Devil, and Henry’s long-lost sister, Hannah, who may or may not have disappeared as a child.
In Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, nothing is what it seems. Characters make startling changes and
lurking surprises cast doubt on their motives. Therein lies the charm, the mystery, and the magic of this unique and captivating tale.