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by David Dibble

Category: Fiction / Literary
313 pages; ISBN: 0-9745790-1-7

Rating: 10/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Mayra Calvani


In this intriguing, suspenseful, beautifully written, complex psychological tale, the author presents us with Daniel Graham, a talented young actor who finds himself in the strange, unusual predicament of having to save himself and escape from a darkness that, though he may not realize it, threatens to consume him.

While acting on stage in New York, Daniel suddenly experiences what every actor dreads most—stage fright. But as we are clued in at the very beginning of the story, “phobias which develop in adulthood are related to a loss of control in other major facets of one’s life,” thus foreshadowing a story rich with psychological implications.

After one of the performances, a small, emaciated man approaches Daniel and offers him a major role in a film soon to be shot in Italy. The rest of the cast already has been selected. When Daniel asks to see the script, the man tells him it is being kept in secrecy by the director. Strange indeed. But the pay is good, and more than anything else at this point, Daniel feels like escaping his present situation. “I was so determined to get away that I did not really dwell on where I was going,” Daniel thinks.

Warm, sunny, sensuous Italy. The set is on a hill overlooking the sea and next to the ruins of an ancient Roman villa. Soon Daniel meets the cast, and he finds himself instantly attracted to actress Deidre, who is to play his love in the film. He also learns some very odd facts about the script. Supposedly, it is based on a translation by a previously unknown comedy by Ephorus, and was found buried in a clay pot until a construction project uncovered it. Moreover, the director plans to film the whole movie without re-takes. In other words, all takes are a master. Why the film has to be shot in such an unconventional way, no one seems to understand.

At times Daniel experiences feelings of “separation” and confusion, as if he is somehow breaking the thin fabric between illusion and reality. These feelings appear to intensify when he meets Count Cagliostro, an enigmatic, mysterious man feared by the locals and accused of being the Devil himself, but who also happens to be the producer. Daniel has the recurrent feeling that Cagliostro is not what he claims to be.

Unexpected events and spooky coincidences threaten Daniel’s state of mind. Soon after they start filming, the actor who was to play the major role, “disappears.” Daniel finds a skull by the ruins of the villa. Cagliostro shows Daniel an old Roman coin engraved with a profile which uncannily resembles Daniel’s. Is Cagliostro immortal? A psychic? A magician? An alchemist? Are all the weird, spooky incidents real—or hallucinations? Is the place itself evil? Is it one of those “dark places where one feels dread, where without knowledge of the horrors that occurred, there is a sinister and claustrophobic air”?

As the film unfolds, so does Daniel’s story, both overlapping one another in a bizarre way. Ultimately, Daniel must save Deidre, the woman he loves, from a cave. Highly symbolic, the cave represents the darkness that has threaten to consume Daniel all this time—the darkness and enigma of his childhood and family, his inability to express love and make a commitment to a woman. In escaping from this cave, Daniel will escape from this darkness. Or will he?

From the fascinating first chapter to the deeply enigmatic ending, I was entranced with the eerie, dream-like quality that permeates the novel throughout. Paralleling the mystery of the plot is the mystery of Daniel himself, and the author has made this work superbly. The author never tells the reader anything about Daniel’s past, his childhood, his family. There is only a brief mention, when he refers to his parents as “monsters.” Daniel, in fact, is a riddle.

The elegance and grace of the narrative and dialogue completely absorbed me. The simple, yet beautiful rich descriptions strongly appeal to the senses: “The low sun illuminated the nearby hills, oblique light cutting into ravines. In the distance, on wine-dark sea, fishing boats headed back to port after a long day. The air was scented with wild oleander and jasmine, fresh with the tang of the salty sea breeze. Some kind of blackbird squabbled in the woods behind the trailers.”

Another fascinating element of the story is all the bits of information about acting and the stage. The author has done an excellent job in using this acting “illusion vs. reality” or “double-life” as a metaphor for Daniel’s psyche. A book difficult to forget, Enchanter comes highly recommended from this reviewer.


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