The New York Times
The Girl in the Glassby Jeffrey Ford
The Great Depression has bound a nation in despair -- and only a privileged few have risen above it: the exorbitantly wealthy ... and the hucksters who feed upon them. Diego, a seventeen-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant, owes his salvation to master grifter Thomas Schell. Together with Schell's gruff and powerful partner, they sail comfortably through hard times,… See more details below
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The Great Depression has bound a nation in despair -- and only a privileged few have risen above it: the exorbitantly wealthy ... and the hucksters who feed upon them. Diego, a seventeen-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant, owes his salvation to master grifter Thomas Schell. Together with Schell's gruff and powerful partner, they sail comfortably through hard times, scamming New York's grieving rich with elaborate, ingeniously staged séances -- until an impossible occurrence changes everything.
While "communing with spirits," Schell sees an image of a young girl in a pane of glass, silently entreating the con man for help. Though well aware that his otherworldly "powers" are a sham, Schell inexplicably offers his services to help find the lost child -- drawing Diego along with him into a tangled maze of deadly secrets and terrible experimentation.
At once a hypnotically compelling mystery and a stunningly evocative portrait of Depression-era New York, The Girl in the Glass is a masterly literary adventure from a writer of exemplary vision and skill.
The New York Times
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The Girl in the GlassA Novel
By Jeffrey Ford
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Jeffrey Ford
All right reserved.
A Medium to Truth
Some days ago I sat by the window in my room, counting the number of sedative pills I've palmed over the course of the last three months. Even though my fingers tremble, I've discovered that the erratic action can be a boon to tricks involving sleight of hand. In the midst of my tabulation, I happened to look outside at the beautiful summer day. A breeze was blowing through the trees that bordered the small courtyard, and their silver-backed leaves flashed in the sunlight. It was then that I noticed a bright yellow butterfly flutter past and come to rest on the head of the weathered concrete Virgin that sits amid the colorful zinnias that nurse Carmen had planted in the spring. The orange dot on its lower wings told me it was an alfalfa, Colias eurytheme.
The sight of this beautiful creature immediately reminded me of my benefactor and surrogate father, Thomas Schell, and I was swept back to my youth, far away in another country. I sat that day for hours, contemplating a series of events that took place sixty-seven years ago, in 1932, when I was seventeen. Decades have since died and been laid to rest, not to mention loved ones and personal dreams, but still that distant time materializes before me like a restless spirit at a seance, insisting its story be told. Of course, now with pen in hand, I have no choice but to be a medium to its truths. All I ask is that you believe.
Every time the widow Morrison cried, she farted, long and low like a call from beyond the grave. I almost busted a gut but had to keep it under my turban. There could certainly be no laughter from Ondoo, which was me, the spiritual savant of the subcontinent.
We were sitting in the dark, holding hands in a circle, attempting to contact Garfield Morrison, the widow's long-dead husband, who fittingly enough had succumbed to mustard gas in a trench in France. Thomas Schell, ringmaster of this soiree, sat across from me, looking, in the glow from the candlelight, like a king of corpses himself -- eyes rolled back, possessed of a bloodless pallor, wearing an expression straight from a nightmare of frantic pursuit.
To my right, holding fast to the gloved dummy hand that stuck out of the end of my jacket sleeve, was the widow's sister, Luqueer, a thin, dried-out cornstalk of a crone, decked with diamonds, whose teeth rattled like shaken dice, and next to her was the young, beautiful niece (I forget her name), whom I rather wished was holding my prosthesis.
On my other side was the widow herself, and between her and Schell sat Milton, the niece's fiance, your typical scoffing unbeliever. He'd told us during our preliminary meeting with the widow that he was skeptical of our abilities; a fast follower of Dunninger and Houdini. Schell had nodded calmly at this news but said nothing.
We didn't have to sit there long before Garfield made his presence known by causing the flame on the candle at the center of the table to gutter and dance.
"Are you there?" called Schell, releasing his hands from those of the participants on either side of him and raising his arms out in front.
He let a few moments pass to up the ante, and then, from just behind Milton's left shoulder, came a mumble, a grumble, a groan. Milton jerked his head around to see who it was and found only air. The niece gave a little yelp and the widow called out, "Garfield, is it you?"
Then Schell opened his mouth wide, gave a sigh of agony, and a huge brown moth flew out. It made a circuit of the table, brushing the lashes of the young lady, causing her to shake her head in disgust. After perching briefly on the widow's dress, just above her heart (where earlier Schell had inconspicuously marked her with a dab of sugar water), it took to circling the flame. The table moved slightly, and there came a rhythmic noise, as if someone was rapping his knuckle against it. Which, in fact, someone was: it was me, from underneath, using the knuckle of my big toe.
Ghostly sobbing filled the dark, which was my cue to slowly move my free arm inside my jacket, reach out at the collar for the pendant on my neck, and flip it around to reveal the back, which held a glass-encased portrait of Garfield. While the assembled family watched the moth orbit closer and closer to fiery destruction, Schell switched on the tiny beacon in his right sleeve while with his left hand he pumped the rubber ball attached to a thin hose beneath his jacket. A fine mist of water vapor shot forth from a hole in the flower on his lapel, creating an invisible screen in the air above the table.
Just as the moth ditched into the flame, which surged with a crackle, sending a thin trail of smoke toward the ceiling, the beam of light from within Schell's sleeve hit my pendant, and I adjusted my position to direct the reflection upward into the vapor.
"I'm here, Margaret," said a booming voice from nowhere and everywhere. Garfield's misty visage materialized above us. He stared hard out of death, his top lip curled back, his nostrils flared, as if even in the afterlife he'd caught wind of his wife's grief. The widow's sister took one look at him, croaked like a frog, and conked out cold onto the table. The widow herself let go of my hand and reached out toward the stern countenance.
"Garfield," she said. "Garfield, I miss you."
"And I you," said the phantom.
"Are you in pain?" she asked. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. All's well here," he said.
"How do I know it's really you?" she asked, holding one hand to her heart.
Excerpted from The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford Copyright © 2005 by Jeffrey Ford.
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