The White Death: An Illusion (Nouvella, 2019), is the first novella from author Gabriel Urza (All That Followed, 2015). Within its svelte sixty pages, Urza explores themes of parenthood, craft, and our fear of the unknown, all through the lens of professional stage magic. Seeking to recount the life of Benjamin Vaughn (stage name: The Great Bendini), a magic phenom who died tragically at the age of fourteen, the unnamed narrator of The White Death grapples with the struggle of having bore witness to the danger of obsession. Behind it all is the often unglamorous world of magic-making, a life confined by secrecy and order, control and faith. The Masters Review reader Benjamin Kessler caught up with the author.
BENJAMIN KESSLER: Did you do any magic as a child?
GABRIEL URZA: In my entire life I’ve only possessed three magic tricks. My main one was the standard rubber thumb, but the skin color was always off so it never looked quite right. I used to make it look like I was putting out my mom’s cigarettes in my palm, hiding the ashes in the tip. I think that trick is still legitimately used, just in more impressive ways. There’s some magic tricks which just require no skill, they’re just gimmicks. As an eight or nine-year-old those were the ones I was most interested in.
I was never really wanted to do the work to become a magician, I just wanted to be magic. I had a stripper deck, trick playing cards, essentially, with deckled edges and specific details on the card backs. But I was also so bad that every time that someone pulled a card out I would have to stare at the markings and then reference the color sheet.
BK: It was unsubtle.
BK: Were you the kind of kid who went around a parent’s party and showed off your tricks?
GU: I was a complete introvert. The idea of actually performing for anyone to me was absurd. I would show it to my parents, but the idea that I would show it to say, a stranger, was always totally off the table. That would have been a nightmare. I actually might have had nightmares about that. That’s essentially where my interest in actual magic ended.
BK: Because of performance anxiety?
GU: Partially. I think I ultimately knew that magic would be just for me. At nine years old I didn’t really want to do the work. What’s the payoff if it’s never going to be seen? Nowadays I’m uninterested in the gimmicks or tricks of magic. I’m drawn in more by the performers and the obsessiveness the craft requires.