Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Magic and Grace
by Chad Hautmann
June 1, 2008, # ISBN-13: 978-0979543418, Paperback: 208 pages
Gibb Chapman is just an ordinary guy. He isn’t having an ordinary year though. When his first novel What Keats Would Do was released, it was an instant hit and Chapman began to party hard. But being a literary sensation went to Chapman’s head and after making some serious mistakes and bad choices, he began a slide downward that began with his wife leaving him and culminated in his house being picketed by dangerous fundamentalists. It would take more than good karma and good intentions for him to get his life back. He would have to rewrite his own story with a better plot. Magic and Grace is Chad Hautmann’s second novel, and has the same compulsively readable mixture of fast paced plot, likeable protagonist, and subtly deep theme as his first novel Billie’s Ghost. Chapman, though flawed like any good character, is believable and compelling. The reader has his point of view throughout the book and it’s his literate and slightly wide-eyed sense of wonder as he discovers himself that propels the narrative.
Of course we root for him as he bumbles along, trying to rebuild his world and make up for his mistakes. But we also share his prejudices and perspective. When Chapman discovers his flaws, we discover our own. The writing itself flows beautifully. The setting is the author’s own small town of Naples, Florida. The setting forms a warm, sensual backdrop to the story as Chapman walks on the beach, cycles through the towns, noticing the bird sounds, festivals, and sunsets:
Taking deep breaths, Gibb watched massive blue thunderheads mushroom toward the stratosphere, their bottoms fiery orange from the rising sun. The Gulf was as flat and green as an outfield in heaven, and egrets and gulls swarmed the surf, scarfing tiny fish. (186)
Unlike Billie’s Ghost, the magic in Magic and Grace is all metaphorical. There are visitations though. Chapman’s father materialises temporarily to give Chapman his blessing, there are the ghosts of the ancient Calusa buried below the city of Naples where the book is set (and the ghost of the city as it changes progressively), and of course the ghost of Keats from Chapman’s first novel. This self-referential parody hints at the ghost of Billie Holliday that graced the pages of Billie’s Ghost. There’s also the magic that happens between parents and their children: father and daughter; mother and son; father and son: a kind of permanent uncanny link that transcends the materialistic. There’s plenty of humour too – from the slapstick progression of perils that befall Chapman, to the white haired picketers that parade in front of Chapman’s house. Although it’s a fast, easy read, the message below the surface of Magic and Grace is a serious one, presenting a deep, Buddhist spirituality behind Chapman’s awakening:
Ha, Gibb thought, there was no point, and that was the goddamn wonderful beauty of it! Just being awake, right here, right now (in the timeless stretch of heres and nows that have been or will be, as long as the species survives), that was what mattered. (240)
Above all, Magic and Grace is a tightly written, feel-good book that demands little from the reader but gives much in return. Buy it to read as an enjoyable bit of pleasure in the midst of an ordinary day, and you’ll find yourself thinking about it long after its fast finish.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.