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The Illusionist


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About the Author

Dinitia Smith is the author of two previous novels, Hard Rain and Remember This. She is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and has taught creative writing at Columbia University. She is now a national correspondent for culture at The New York Times and lives in New York City.


In this delicately handled tale of a man who is not what he seems, young, androgynous Dean Lily arrives in Sparta, N.Y., aspiring to be a professional magician. From Dean's first appearance at the Wooden Nickel bar, where he beats his nemesis Brian Perez at cards and wins the attention of every woman in the joint, the theme of Dean's life is established, and over the course of the novel its variations are played out in the voices of Dean and the women who love him. First taken home by Chrissie, a nurse with a big heart and low self-esteem, Dean soon seduces Chrissie's supervisor, then Brian's girlfriend, as he flees a shady past of similar sexual conquests. But is Dean the playboy he seems? The revelation of his secret‘by then no secret to the reader‘plunges the town into a fit of smug barbarism. Through the cruel climax and beyond, Dean remains an alien to Sparta‘human only in the understanding, appreciative eyes of the women whose biology he accidentally shares. Smith (Remember This) explores the shadowy terrain of transgender existence with assurance, and supplies a frisson of suspense as Dean cuts a tragic path through his victims' lives. (Nov.)

Chicago Tribune Beautifully written. With this haunting book, Smith tells a wonderful tale and raises provocative questions. Stephen King Mesmerizing, erotic suspense. Alan Cheuse All Things Considered A powerful novel about sexual desire and social disorder. Edward Hower The New York Times Book Review A skillfully written novel. And its greatest strength is the sensitivity with which Smith explores the complexities of love. Detour magazine Smoke-and-mirrors prose that would dazzle Houdini...Smith has written a truly chilling winter's tale. Carolyn See The Washington Post Dinitia Smith has taken this "true" story and given its characters introspection and sad dignity. Carole Goldberg The Hartford Courant [Smith] nails the fading ambience of a town that has lost its reason for being. And she shows poignantly why...women will seek and sustain the illusion of love. Maureen Corrigan NPR Fresh Air [A] quicksilver novel in which nothing, not even sexual identity, is unwavering...Smith has stripped away an even greater illusion: that human sexuality is straightforward and fathomable, normative and neat. Rosellen Brown The Illusionist is a terrifying story of the ways good people can follow their most generous instincts straight into tragedy. Dinitia Smith's novel makes the bizarre plausible while it heightens the ordinary. I was caught in its web, beguiled from first page to last. Larry Kramer A haunting, heartbreaking, utterly unforgettable novel. What an overwhelming accomplishment of the imagination!

Dean Lily, amateur magician and androgynous scoundrel, drifts into the economically depressed, drug-infested town of Sparta, New York. The townspeople are both mesmerized and repelled by Dean's blurry gender and his ease in wooing and wounding one faithful young woman after another, each of whom swears he is the most tender of manly lovers. Of course, he is not. Dean Lily, born Lily Dean, was miserable as a girl until she found some psychosexual peace once she started binding her breasts and dressing and acting as a man. In Sparta, Dean enrages a pair of drunken lowlifes who, desperate to show an old girlfriend that Dean is a fraud, rape and threaten to kill him if he goes to the police, thus setting in motion the inevitable tragedy. Based loosely on a true hate crime in Humboldt, Nebraska, Smith's novel is a deeply disturbing and provocative study not only of the transsexual psyche but of the meaning of romantic love and its attendant powers of denial.‘Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., Mich.

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