The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Rick Klaw, August 12, 2005, Books

The Girl in the Glass

by Jeffrey Ford

William Morrow, 304 pp., $13.95

In Jeffrey Ford's The Girl in the Glass, reality is a con, at least according to illegal Mexican immigrant Diego, his foster father Thomas Schell, and ex-circus strongman Antony Cleopatra. In 1932 Long Island, this diverse trio of confidence men pose as a team of spiritual mediums. Their marks are the city's naive wealthy. During a séance, the group's leader, Schell, experiences a ghastly vision of a murdered young girl, and even though it could destroy their livelihood, he decides to use their considerable talents to find her killer. This life-altering event leads to encounters with sideshow geeks, the Ku Klux Klan, governmental conspiracy, mad scientists, illegal immigrants, and butterflies. This is a story with romance, action, and humor. Reminiscent of Geek Love and Carter Beats the Devil, The Girl in the Glass is weird mystery at its finest.

Not that any of that could be gleaned from the book's inappropriate cover and packaging. At first glance, the novel appears to be what the publishing world dubs "Women's Fiction," a nice, staid novel that will only appeal to suburban mothers. This couldn't be further from the truth. The real con of The Girl in the Glass is the one that the publisher is trying to put over on the reading public. Ford weaves a complex plot that explores the nature of evil and the strength of family through the lens of a good mystery. While traversing disparate elements, the author manages to keep the story grounded in reality, never once veering off into the absurd. His portrait of Depression-era Long Island is both provocative and enchanting. Ford's characters and situations, while often unique, are familiar, as though they are from some unremembered communal past. I felt their pain, fear, anxiousness, and joy. Like all good cons, The Girl in the Glass is more than it appears. Beneath the surface of Jeffrey Ford's lyrical prose is a truth for all of us.

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