Marina didn't lie, not really. By paying attention, she collected the same information she would have obtained with The Sight, right?
No, not really, according to Debra Ginsberg's brilliant new novel, The Grift.
The reality is always much worse than the fantasy. Well, "worse" is subjective in most cases. Not in this one, though, really. Not as I see it.
Marina was intelligent and observant enough to know that people all want to know something, and they think someone else knows it, whatever "it" is. I've been there, looking in country western songs for the meaning of life. For others, its in the cards or eyes of a psychic.
I do not discount psychic abilities, but Marina doesn't make a good case for them. Despite a "sighting" by a psychic early in her life, Marina has been untouched by The Sight. She listens, she watches, she lets people tell her what they want to know, then she finds ways to give them back this information — in the form of readings, candles, herbs and other (surprisingly expensive) occult paraphernalia.
Until the day she starts seeing what she never believed in. Then the question becomes what does one do with the truth when she never really beheld it before? It does not, as the old hymn leads us to believe, set us free. Not the real truth, and not for people who don't really want it after all.
Ginsberg's novel was a compelling read. The language was precise, the writing smooth, the story a fresh perspective of an old concept and the characters interesting and rich.
The book's strength is in its characters. While the story is compelling, it could not be so without the characters. And the characters are not "typical." There are few victims in this novel, though some are easily led where they want to go. Some characters are weaker than others and more desperately want to believe what they are told. Some part more easily with their money.
Marina is a very sympathetic and realistic working woman. Damaged by an early life with an abusive addict of a mother who marks her (permanently) in a hideous way, the young woman gives people exactly what they want. That they give her money is not a sin, even if it's for an illusion. Marina does not sugar-coat her abilities, though she glosses over the rougher stuff in her history. We meet more than one psychic, and we have a chance to compare Marina to the others in talent and character. Ginsberg is fair to her psychics, and I appreciate that.
Marina's clients, however, fare worse. Her first client is more sympathetic than the rest, I suspect, because of her age, income and desperation. Marina's subsequent clients are more wealthy, and that is a very important factor in this story. Ginsberg shows them no mercy; in fact, she is rather brutal to those for whom she perceives entitlement via wealth and opportunity. Ginsberg shows how the mind evolves from client to friend to owner to blame-caster. It's a fascinating, well-illustrated path on which we follow these Southern California privileged.
Despite Ginsberg's clear and linear storytelling, I was confused about Marina's situation after her breakdown. At a certain point in the book, I could not overcome the confusion between reality and psychic visions regarding Marina herself. At one point, professionals dispute something Marina knows, knows as fact. Science literally disproves her theory, and yet the condition continued with other characters contributing to what appeared to be the psychic's psychosis. I was unsure what was hysterical and what was "real." I was confused: who was right, Marina or the professionals?
The book ended as I thought it should, but the final image was too quaint for the character expressing it. After 400 pages of Night Gallery, Ginsbery ended with something I would have expected from Susan Polis Schultz. It didn't ruin the book, but it went out with a simper.
Despite these two quibbles, which in the scope of the book are quite minor, I would highly recommend the book.