Jeremiah Rosemont is a far-fallen academic star, an art historian with specialized knowledge of — and uncanny experience with — tarot decks. Having exiled himself from the United States, he finds his wanderings through Nicaragua interrupted one night by the mysterious delivery of a plane ticket to Rome. There, he stumbles into a maelstrom of occult forces and figures gathering around a deck of uncertain origin and powers. Another figure with links to the deck is the Boy King, a vagrant in Minneapolis with strange and formidable talents. The chapters of The Magician and the Fool alternate between Rome and Minneapolis, while the story meanders through time and space, until the lives of Rosemont and the Boy King finally dovetail with surprising consequences.
This is Barth Anderson‘s second novel, and in it he displays prodigious gifts, seamlessly blending items such as transcripts of interviews, faxes, and redacted government letters with amazingly vivid descriptions of surreal events, such as this scene from a festival in Rome:
A crowd of men in gas masks were playing sanders, drills, and one man with a whining electric saw was pressing it against an iron slab, sending up rooster tails of sparks over the crowd, all of which turned upon multifold Moroccan rhythms and the singer’s reverent, warbling voice.
The use of mirrors in Rosemont’s first key romantic liaison and the conclusion is also noteworthy. On the other hand, he refuses to spoon-feed the reader with “what’s really happening” behind the viewpoint character’s immediate thoughts and perceptions — leaving enigmas such as the identities of minor characters unresolved. The result is a post-modern fever dream that feels longer than its 290 pages and should captivate a reader who lets him/herself succumb to it, but that is unlikely to enlighten or educate (with the exception of tarot lore, but even there, one struggles to separate fact from myth from fiction). Overall, this should be a fascinating library loan for mature fans of modern or literary fantasy (but to this reviewer, it was much lighter and less rewarding than Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, for example). Its card is… the Three of Stars.