Thirty years after a tragic accident shut down production of the classic children’s program Mister Magic, the five surviving cast members have done their best to move on. But just as generations of cultishly devoted fans still cling to the lessons they learned from the show, the cast, known as the Circle of Friends, have spent their lives searching for the happiness they felt while they were on it. The friendship. The feeling of belonging. And the protection of Mister Magic.
But with no surviving video of the show, no evidence of who directed or produced it, and no records of who—or what—the beloved host actually was, memories are all the former Circle of Friends has.
Then a twist of fate brings the castmates back together at the remote desert filming compound that feels like it’s been waiting for them all this time. Even though they haven’t seen each other for years, they understand one another better than anyone has since.
After all, they’re the only ones who hold the secret of that circle, the mystery of the magic man in his infinitely black cape, and, maybe, the answers to what really happened on that deadly last day. But as the Circle of Friends reclaim parts of their past, they begin to wonder: Are they here by choice, or have they been lured into a trap?
Because magic never forgets the taste of your friendship. . . .
Val lives an isolated, lonely life in rural Idaho with her ailing father. Val has always lived here. The past thirty years have been so ruled by her father’s paranoia that Val didn’t go to school, almost never leaves the ranch, and has barely even seen television.
But when her father dies and an announcement goes out on Facebook, a lifetime of hiding is instantly undone, and soon, a group of beautiful strangers arrive at her doorstep. They all know her, but she doesn’t remember them. Seeing her only chance to finally escape from her cloistered life, she runs away with them, off to the Utah desert, where she just might find the secrets her Father worked so hard to shield her from.
It’s hard to say more about the plot of Mister Magic without spoiling this twisty turny tale, but I can say that it all revolves around the longest running television show in history: Mister Magic. This children’s show, which sounds something like a demonic Romper Room crossed with Mister Wizard, ran for decades, with a rotating cast of six children, all playing to their specific type. At least that seems to be what people remember. The fact is that there is no record of the show outside of anecdotal evidence from past viewers. No video tapes. Nothing.
White makes a great deal of this ghost show, weaving the book through with “found” documents: online chat room threads, letters, and Wikipedia articles. And for some books, this Mandela Effect of the slightly spooky show that might only exist in people’s minds would be enough to carry the story. Val would travel to the desert with her new friends(?) and uncover the mystery of Mister Magic.
But this book has much bigger fish to fry. For one, White seems to recognize the Mandela Effect that is childhood. There’s a real poignancy in the way those snippets of voices talk about a show that was so meaningful to them but also so ephemeral. On one level Mister Magic is an investigation of the way memory—especially childhood memory—is so unreliable, so slippery, always being overwritten by our own experiences, by hearsay, and finally, by trauma.
Because even this investigation of memory is secondary to the book’s true concerns. Readers of White’s Hide (2022), will recognize a certain similarity in Mister Magic’s contemporary folk-horror setup, but it’s my belief that Hide was really a warm up to what she does with the concept here, a moving slowly around the topic without yet being able to face it head on. In Mister Magic, she faces it down, and we get a fast-moving, fun horror quest that is finally about childhood abuse, specifically the abuse perpetrated by organized religion. The way that White pulls off this particular trick is not quite allegory. It’s too direct for that. And the power of Val’s realization, and her sacrifice, are truly powerful.
Mister Magic presents an author who has made a sudden leap forward, and I can’t wait to see where this leap takes her next.