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The Girl in the Glass (2005)

by Jeffrey Ford

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3272361,191 (3.67)14
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.… (more)
  1. 00
    The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes (rbtanger)
    rbtanger: Similar in atmosphere and incidental details; there are also several character overlaps, especially of the side-show sort.
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English (21)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (23)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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.

(This review originally appeared in The Austin Chronicle, August 12, 2005.)
Link: [http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/review?oid=oid:284201] ( )
  rickklaw | Oct 13, 2017 |
While conducting a phony séance amongst the wealthy inhabitants of Depression-era Long Island, a group of con artists discover an actual murder and decide to investigate. Great set-up, great characters, great read. ( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed every bit of this book. As I seem to do more than I should I found this book from, I believe BookBub because the cover caught my eye and then the synopsis sounded interesting so I downloaded it. This book delivers on all levels. Whether you are looking for a fun mystery, a depression era historical fiction, racial / social equality, carnival con men. This book covers all of these subjects and more and keeps you turning the pages as fast as you can. The plot is well paced and the characters are deep, real, and full of life. I recommend this book for a book club read because of all the different topics Mr. Ford touches on throughout his story. Your group will find a lot to talk about. And if your group is like mine and enjoys a theme for their get together this one will give you great ideas! I didn't want to stop reading to look up some of the subject matter he describes but will be perusing the internet a bit after I finish my review!
So, back to that cover...I would think about it every once in awhile and wonder why the publisher chose that image for the cover because it never really ever fit the story. I could have thought of several other themes to choose from. I expected a whole different kind of story than what I found. A great read never the less. I will be reading more from Jeffrey Ford. ( )
  theeccentriclady | May 15, 2016 |
After a little bit of initial resistance, I really ended up liking this a lot. Its a well told and nicely crafted tale about a group of spiritualist grifters working the inhabitants of the mansions of Long Island during the Great Depression. Like other tales of this era - Paper Moon, The Sting, Bonnie and Clyde even, its an open question whether the grifters or the solid citizens are the greater crooks.

I liked the characters a lot, and there were some wonderfully resonant images here. Also I very much liked the thread of weirdness that runs through the fabric of the tale, just a little glitter here and a sparkle there. This is not a story that goes to strange worlds except in so far as the past is another world, but it does carry a slight flavor of otherness. It wouldn't entirely surprise me if the smelly stuffed crocodile amidst the curiosities on display in the corner of some overdecorated parlor winked a cynical eye before returning to immobility as if he never left it. ( )
  bunwat | Mar 30, 2013 |
This was a good book about staged seances, immigration, Prohibition and life of grifters trying to make a living among the rich. I liked Diego's relationships with Schell, Antony, and Isabel. ( )
  krin5292 | Jun 4, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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For Jack, with all my love and respect. It's your move.
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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.
Quotations
Every time the widow Morrison cried, she farted, long and low like a call from beyond the grave.
Thomas Schell possessed more flimflam than a politician, a poet, and a pope put together. As Antony often put it, "He could sell matches to the devil."
What we considered inconsequential, Schell could possibly snatch up and spin into gold. We had to work fast, with a scattershot method, and merely hope for the best.
The minute hand on the big clock above the grill moved like a thoroughbred on the back turn as I noted information about Barnes's shipping business, his political affiliations, the movie stars who'd visited his home, the charitable contributions he'd made.
"It's dark out there," I said.
"Yeah, that's what happens at night."
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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.

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