Previously on Handbook for Mortals: Dela detailed the meeting between herself and Charles in the 1970’s, and boy did things get sexist! That’s literally it.
And before we start, I am once again splitting this one up into two parts. While it’s not as long as chapter 15,
this first half is a slog. EDIT! IT’S ALL A SLOG! By which I mean it’s not laughably bad, for the most part, but it’s still a long way from being outright good.
Now, you might have thought that the end of Dela and Charles’ meeting might have been the natural conclusion to that story. But nope! It turns out that the only reason Dela stopped there was because Mac finished his iced tea (which, we’re told, was served in a mason jar!) and made a loud slurpy sound. This prompts Dela to offer him more, which brings Mac back to reality after being deeply absorbed in the riveting, totally relevant story. After accepting, Mac thinks about how enlightening Dela’s story was–in regards to Charles’ history.
Mac vaguely knew that Charles had toured as a traveling magician when he was young but he hand never known that he was basically really a carnie and a gypsy in a traveling circus.
I know that Lani’s use of the term “gypsy” to refer to free-spirited bohemian types is old hat by this point, and I am positive that she’s simply ignorant of its status as a relatively new no-no word, but it actually does come across as slightly derogatory in this context, especially when coupled with the word “carnie.” I am unsure if this is intentional and meant to show what a shitlord Mac is, or if it’s meant to be a neutral evaluation of Charles’ life pre-fame. I am given to speculate that it is the latter, because Mac goes on to think about how people in that sort of life “have nothing and no one,” and how he never imagined Charles to have come from such humble beginnings.
Mac’s opinion was rapidly changing and he was really starting to see why Charles had achieved all of this fame and greatness.
This makes no sense. Literally nothing about Dela’s story had anything to do with how or why Charles became famous. Unless you read this as Mac thinking that Charles’ hotness and cocky charm played a major role in his ascent to stardom? But Mac already knows that Charles is attractive and charming. This line makes no sense.
Wasn’t the point of the story to somehow help illustrate what was wrong with Zade?
Dela goes to fetch Mac a refill on his tea, and Charles takes the opportunity to tell him that he wasn’t planning on wearing the bulletproof vest, and thought Dela was doing him a bamboozle. He talks for a moment about how he disliked fortune-teller types, and gets an admittedly good line in:
“I had always believed we were both tricksters, deceiving people in our own ways. The difference–I always thought–was people came to me to be fooled; they wanted me to deceive them, but they came to her for the truth.”
Aside from the wonky punctuation, I think that this would be a really interesting theme for a story about the relationship between a stage magician and a (non-magical) fortune teller. Unfortunately, it’s rendered irrelevant by the fact that Dela actually is psychic and therefore is simply an agent of truth.
Charles says that he soon realized that Dela wasn’t actually a charlatan, and proceeded to try to get a feeling for if her words about Betty were truthful:
“I tried to have conversations with Betty to see if I could tell what she was thinking of it she acted odd. It didn’t take long for me to see that Betty was incredibly hard to read–and reading people was usually something I did easily.”
If it weren’t for the last line, I’d not have a problem with this, but if he’s so good at reading people, don’t you think he would have realized his assistant of over a year was a weirdly difficult case? But apparently Dela gave him some more intel on Betty’s psyche:
Dela insisted that Betty still loved me, and she seemed to go back and forth between wanting to please me and seeming like she might actually want to kill me.
This kind of contradicts the “free will” thing that Zade/Dela keep invoking about the future: if Betty has free will then why does the only way to successfully prevent her from murdering Charles completely bypass her free will? Urgh. This book is so inane.
Charles then basically says that he eventually decided to wear the bulletproof vest because it couldn’t hurt to do so. Then Charles pauses, and we get a moment to appreciate Charles’ storytelling skills.
It wasn’t just the words or the way he spun them but it was the inflection of each word as it rolled off his tongue and the speed and volume of each and every sentence.
I’m pretty sure Lani Sarem wanted us to know that Charles was an engaging speaker but realized that his dialogue wasn’t anything special, so she’s basically handwaving his meh-ness with “you really had to be there, you guys.” On the bright side, I now imagine Charles to speak like William Shatner, with all his signature random inflection and pauses.
Mac is entranced, though, and wants to know what happened next, even though Zade tells us that he’s pretty sure that Dela was right. But Mac also wants to know what happened with Dela and Charles to make them have such a messy break up.
Mac had been drawn completely into the story between the two of them He was more hooked than a housewife watching, Days of Our Lives.
And while I never thought I’d say this, isn’t this like the once exact time that the world should revolve around Zade? Isn’t she upstairs (possibly still bleeding from her mouth) and in critical condition? Didn’t Dela say she needed to prepare for the Zade-healing ritual? Why are they just sitting around telling stories and drinking tea? Argh!!!
Charles says that he wore the vest and hoped to live, but couldn’t believe that Betty would actually try to murder him. But then Betty actually did. Mac is incredulous! Charles tells us that Betty was taken to a mental hospital
“and I lived to see another day.”
Charles added the last bit in for dramatic effect; obviously he had lived to see many more days.
I love that out of all the ambiguously-phrased stuff in this novel, this is the line that gets clarification.
Mac takes a moment to decide if he should ask Dela about what she saw when she looked into Charles’ eyes and got all freaked out in the last chapter. When he does, she tells him that she saw them getting together and having a baby, it was fuzzy because Charles hand’t yet decided to wear the vest. She explains that it’s difficult to see your own future, because you tend to be biased and interpret it incorrectly. She says that it was shocking to see a future where she and Charles were in love and baby-having because she had hated him so much, etc.
Mac asks what she means by Charles not having decided to wear the vest, and Dela explains that free will is a thing, and explains some stuff about how knowing the future can help you change it with an extended metaphor about driving a car. Mac says he thinks he understands, and, realizing that he’s engaged in the story, asks what happens next. Thankfully, he has the awareness to wonder what this has to do with what’s wrong with Zade (spoiler: nothing).
Charles says that Dela became his new assistant, but Mac says that what he was hoping to find out was what went wrong with Zade. Dela says she was just about to get to that part. She thinks for a moment about how she hopes he’ll be able to handle the truth, and Zade’s random italicized thoughts pop in to tell us that she wishes she could have told him herself.
Dela starts by telling Mac that her powers extend beyond mere fortune telling:
“I, and therefore Zade, come from a very long line of tarot readers, be we are actually more than just that. The one skill actually has nothing to do with the other. They are separate trades. Kind of like welding and carpentry: they are two totally different things but it can be very helpful if you can do both.”
I would like to take this moment to point out that Dela’s story was about being a tarot reader, and Zade’s accident was about being a bad chaos magician. Dela basically says that her story about meeting Charles has nothing to do with what’s wrong with Zade. I think the logic is that easing Mac into with a story about future-telling will be less hard on him, but you’d think that in such a dire situation, zapping a teapot into a cat or something would be the most believable and efficient way of communicating that magic is for real.
Mac expresses confusion, saying that he’s totally lost. Instead of answering the question, Dela reiterates that she and Zade are tarot readers, and launches into a long explanation about tarot that we’ve heard like two or three times by this point ( and which, by her own admission, has nothing to do with the Zade situation!). She goes on for a bit about how tarot helps you learn life lessons, and how learning and growing is the reason we exist, etc. Also, we get a bit of bad history:
“Tarot, if we go far enough back, actually comes from an ancient form of Judaism, which we can trace back to the kings of old–soothsayers are in the bible, and kings would not make moves without consulting one.”
According to HowStuffWorks.com, tarot cards (as in, cards with fancy pictures) originated in the 15th century, and weren’t used for divination until the 18th century. Although Kabbalah (which I assume is what Lani is referring to when she says “ancient form of Judaism”) began to be worked in with tarot reading in the 19th century, calling Kabbalah “ancient” is a bit of a stretch; there’s lots of controversy about its origins, but regardless of that, its connection to divination is basically nonexistent. This isn’t to say that tarot is total bunk and dumb; my sister who’s into it has told me that it’s a fun method of exploring your psych e and intuitions (sorry if I’ve misrepresented it at all, sister who is maybe reading this). But representing it as ancient Jewish magic is simply wrong.
But Dela finally gets to the point, and surprise, it has nothing to do with tarot cards anyway!
“But Zade and I also come from an even longer line of practicing witches, and even beyond that, magical beings. We do magick of all kinds, spells, and things. The real kind–spelled with a ‘k’ at the end–not what Charlie usually does. Not mortal but not immortal either.
There’s a couple things to unpack here, too. First, the obvious: Zade and Dela are not mortal but not immortal? Well then what are they? What does that mean? I’ve said this before, but I get the feeling that Lani is using “mortal” as a synonym for “muggle.” Second, the real kind of magic is spelled with a k? In this video, Lani explains to us that magick-with-a-k is the real spelling, from ye olde English. I don’t know if that’s true, and I can’t find a source despite looking for several whole minutes.
Mac takes a moment to mull this over. He asks if it’s like “that TV show Charmed,” and Dela says no, although she allows that they did get some things right like the “power of three,” but that the show got pretty silly towards the end. I am almost positive that no one under the age of 20 has seen Charmed. Dela then asks if Mac has seen the Sandra Bullock movie Practical Magic, saying that movie is far more accurate. Mac says he has. Again, I am positive the target audience has not.
“Actually, I am almost sure a real practicing witch either wrote that or helped write that, though a real witch probably wrote Charmed, too.”
Charles says that what he does is just deception, but that what Zade and Dela do is real magic-with-a-k.
Mac’s mind is blown:
You know that expression “mind blown?” That is how Mac felt at that very moment.
But then Mac thinks of something that gives him pause:
“So, do you worship the devil?” he speculated. He wasn’t a “go to church on Sunday” kind of guy, but he did believe in God.
Dela explains that magic comes from God, and that prayer is a kind of magic! And that prayer is a skill, like basketball! Mac says that he was never taught that prayer was magic when he went to church as a kid, and Dela brings up some very good points (for the second time in one chapter!):
“You don’t think Jesus turning water into wine sounds like a magick trick? Or Moses’s rod turning into a snake, or parting the Red Sea? What about the kings of old, like David? They had priests that practiced magick and told the future. Once upon a time, people were fine with magick. But people get afraid of what they don’t understand, and start telling people that it’s bad. People who wanted power but couldn’t do magick wanted to stop those who could. This gift, like all others, comes from God.”
I guess that Mac’s question about devil worship is valid, since he’s just been told that magic is real and a religious source of magic is a reasonable enough guess, but any true-believer worth their salt would tell you that Biblical miracles aren’t the same as “magic.”
Anyway, Dela believes that she’s pwned Mac’s religious misgivings, and it seems like she has, because they never come up again. Mac remembers Zade saying something about people hating what they don’t understand, and totally gets it now.
Charles finally gets a word in edgewise:
“When Dela became my assistant, all of a sudden my illusions got better, and then Dela started having me work on bigger illusions. I would do them, even though I didn’t even know completely how they worked. She would tell me they were family secrets.”
Remember when Mac thought he understood why Charles became famous? Even though it’s not quite clear what his line-of-thinking was, it obviously was not this. So basically, Charles probably blew up because of Dela. I guess it worked out OK for him, though.
Charles asks Mac if the bit about “family secrets” sounds familiar. Dela says that she loved Charles so much that she wanted to help him succeed. Charles says they were happy for a long time.
Mac asks when Charles found out. Dela says it was after Zade was born and definitely had powers. While she’s saying this, she looking doe-eyedly at Charles, and it is repeated that they are still so in love!!!
Suddenly, Mac has deeper misgivings, and makes another dated pop-culture reference:
“Why do I feel like I am in some bad episode of Bewitched?” Are you both being serious right now?”
He reels for a bit, and Dela tells him that it’s true! Christ, this chapter is repetitive. Dela fidgets with her neckalce, which looks just like Zade’s necklace that was briefly mentioned in chapter 12, and it’s totally unimportant. Even so, it gets extra description: it has strange writing, and is either silver or platinum.
And that’s where I’m leaving off for today.
I promise it picks up in part two!! hahaha disregard this I suck. Zade finally gets stabbed! That’s another lie, too. They just talk more. Although it is revealed that Zade will need to get stabbed!