Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 452
The novel begins with a group siblings in New York City. It is the summer of 1969, men have walked on the moon, and the United States is mired down in Vietnam. The hot, bored Gold children, seeking distraction, search for a fortune teller newly arrived in their Lower East Side neighborhood. When it is finally her turn, 13-year-old Varya is skeptical because the fortune the woman gives her is too good. She wonders if the long life promised her is the same prediction for her siblings—and later learns this is not the case.
It is too good, the fortune Varya has been given, and her good fortune becomes proof of the seer’s fraudulence; probably she gives the same prediction to everyone. Varya thinks of the Wizard of Oz. Like him, this woman is no mage and no seer.
One brother and sister, Simon and Klara, move to San Francisco. The teenaged Simon has realized he is gay, and that he wants to dance; he studies ballet and dances for money in a nightclub. When they arrive, he has a sexual encounter with an older man, wondering at his ostensible reluctance to give his name.
Isn’t disclosure the reason gay men come to San Francisco? But Simon has to be patient. He dreams of dating Ian, lying on a blanket in Golden Gate Park….
Simon becomes a casualty of AIDS, and it turns out he dies on the day the fortuneteller predicted. Will this hold true for his siblings?
Klara’s childhood interest in magic blossoms, and she becomes immersed in a magician’s life, often wondering as much as her audiences do where to find the line between magic and reality. She realizes that a female magician is an anomaly but decides to pursue that goal, which is perhaps another illusion.
Klara won’t be a woman who is sawed in half or tied in chains—nor will she be rescued or liberated. She’ll save herself. She’ll be the saw.
While Varya was foretold to live until her eighties, nothing was said about good health. As she grows up, she realizes that her anxiety is often stronger than her will, and her carefulness turns into OCD. In one of her many sessions with one of many therapiss, she reviews what she is afraid of; the list includes
Cancer. Climate change. Being the victim of a car crash. Being the cause of a car crash…. Gunmen, Plane crashes – sudden doom!... Ticks and bedbugs and lice. Chemicals. The homeless. Crowds. Uncertainty and risk and open-ended endings. Responsibility and guilt. She is even afraid of her own mind. She is afraid of its power, of what it does to her.