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Acts of Violet

Review

Acts of Violet

Novice fiction writers or literary critics may have heard that there are three different ways readers come to understand fictional characters: by what they do, what they say, and what other characters say about them. In ACTS OF VIOLET, Margarita Montimore puts on a master class in the third of those options for character development. The title character --- magician Violet Volk --- may or may not appear in the novel at all, but readers will learn an awful lot about her thanks to the commentary of many other characters.

Central to this undertaking is journalist and podcaster Cameron Frank. After making a name for himself investigating cryptozoology and other paranormal phenomena, Cameron has embarked on a new project: a podcast called “Strange Exits,” which proposes to do a deep dive into the backstories of famous people who disappeared. Naturally, the show’s first season will focus on Violet Volk since the 10-year anniversary of her disappearance in the midst of a high-profile magic show in her hometown is rapidly approaching.

"ACTS OF VIOLET offers fascinating insights into the world of professional magicians, and the novel describes many astounding tricks..."

Cameron has been successful in gathering a variety of voices and viewpoints from Violet’s colorful life to speak with him about who she was, and why (and how) she disappeared. These include Violet’s fans, many of whom celebrate her as a feminist hero, one of the few really big-name female magicians who famously turned many of the industry’s sexist tropes on their heads. Cameron also interviews several people with a more complicated and, frankly, less adulatory outlook on Violet’s life and career.

But despite Cameron’s best efforts, he has yet to get the most important person to agree to an interview. That’s Violet’s younger sister, Sasha, who was largely estranged from Violet at the time of her disappearance. Many of Violet’s most diehard fans blame Sasha for disparaging their hero, if not for causing her disappearance. Sasha, a hair stylist and salon owner who still lives in the town where she and Violet grew up, spends most of her time wishing the furor over Violet’s memory would finally die down. But as the annual vigil commemorating her disappearance promises to be bigger than ever in Year 10, Sasha finds herself contending not only with this new podcast, but also with her own bizarre sleepwalking and her college-aged daughter’s desire to participate in the commemorative events.

Violet’s story unfolds through documentary evidence (emails, articles, blog posts, etc.) and transcripts from Cameron’s podcast episodes. Since Sasha refuses to participate (at least at first), her important part of the story is revealed differently, through first-person narration, much of which takes place in her therapist’s office. This fragmented narration is exciting for readers, who will feel as if they, like Cameron, are putting together the pieces of a puzzle that forms the outlines of a life.

ACTS OF VIOLET offers fascinating insights into the world of professional magicians, and the novel describes many astounding tricks --- both those that real-world magicians spend their whole careers perfecting and individualizing, and the fantastical, Violet-specific illusions that Montimore seems to have had great fun imagining. Illusion, in the end, is at the center of the book. How can anyone really know someone whose whole life has revolved around illusion? The answer, it turns out, is different depending on whom you ask --- and it might involve something that looks a whole lot like magic after all.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 15, 2022

Acts of Violet
by Margarita Montimore

  • Publication Date: July 5, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250815061
  • ISBN-13: 9781250815064