Magic requires both deceiver and deceived to make the impossible seem real. In “The Peekaboo Paradox,” author Gene Weingarten sneaks into the private life of a gifted children’s performer to deconstruct his appeal. “The central fact of [the preschooler’s] world—and the central terror to be overcome,” Weingarten writes, “is his own powerlessness. This is where the Great Zucchini works his magic.” This superb example of a profile from The Washington Post Magazine fully dissects its subject to find that self-deception can play a role in illusion-making, too. Weingarten’s deft rhythm in storytelling gently pulls one veil after another away from the innocence that the Great Zucchini tries so hard to preserve for his charges.

Our second notable narrative for this month, “The Real Work,” delves into the legacy of magic and magicians, moving from its youngest apprentices to its veterans and the debate over its future. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik avoids the temptation to give away the tricks of the trade. Instead, he traces the roots of magic’s power (which leaves us “knowing it’s a trick but not which one it is”) and suggests that “friendships, flirtations, even love affairs depend, like magic tricks, on a constant exchange of incomplete but tantalizing information.”

We paired these pieces to show how two “magical” stories that touch on the transition to adulthood can use point of view and authorial voice to very divergent ends. Yet both somehow illustrate how magic unites performer and audience to create an illusion that everyone involved knows is unreal, but which for a moment can be held up, admired, and believed.

Read “The Peekaboo Paradox,” by Gene Weingarten

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