The Mirror Thief
I put down this 600-page book and my first reaction was "what just happened!?" I definitely finished the novel with more questions than answers; but somehow, it worked.
Martin Seay's debut novel follows three men in different iterations of "Venice." The reader begins in 2003 on the eve of the Afghanistan War with Curtis Stone, a former military policeman sent to Las Vegas (The Venetian casino) to track down Stanley Glass. Then we drop into Stanley's narrative - a half a century before Curtis comes looking for him. In 1958, we follow con man Stanley with his boyfriend Claudio in Venice Beach as he searches for the author of "The Mirror Thief," Adiran Welles, who he believes can teach him about magic. The protagonist of "The Mirror Thief" by Welles (not the book I am trying to describe) is Crivano, a magician. Then: the third storyline is the most fascinating: Vettor Crivano, an alchemist living in Venice, Italy, in 1952, trying to smuggle mirror-makers out of the city.
Still with me?
Seay was inspired to write the story based on the history of the mirror in Venice. In his own words from this Electric Literature interview:
...I stumbled across a book by Sabine Melchior-Bonnet (The Mirror: A History) from which I learned about the two-hundred-ish-year monopoly that Venice had on the manufacture of flat glass mirrors, about the intrigues that resulted from the efforts of various foreign powers to steal the technology for themselves, and about the draconian measures that the city-state of Venice took to thwart them. That, I figured, was enough plot to hang a book on; it also led pretty naturally to themes of reflection and iteration, which allowed me to play with the idea of Venice as a city that keeps getting duplicated: versions of it have reappeared, for instance, in Southern California and in Las Vegas, to name only the two instances that are pertinent to my book.
As I love reading book reviews (shocking!), one line from Scarlett Thomas' review of the book in the New York Times caught my eye: "This is not 'The Da Vinci Code' for intellectuals. It' s more like 'Howl' translated into Latin and then back again. Over 600 pages. It's amazing." The book truly is something to sink your teeth into.
The book is wild in scope yet superbly detailed, intricate, and engaging. The three main characters - Curtis, Stanley, and Crivano - mirror each other in unexpected ways while their base line is that they are all strangers in their own Venices. was hoping for a neat bow to tie everything up at the end, but I should not have expected that from Seay. I did lose him a bit at times - especially when he got into poetry, and philosophical musings on time and space - but overall, the story was enjoyable with a bit of magic and a lot of mystery. What more could you want in a summer read?