Poet Destiny O. Birdsong’s (Negotiations) debut novel is as much about what isn’t said—what can’t be said—as it is about what’s actually on the page. Nobody’s Magic is a masterfully crafted and sometimes painfully honest story told in triptych, centering on three Black women with albinism living in Shreveport, Louisiana.
This unusual novel is built on spaciousness and silence, with each section reading almost like a novella. Suzette lives with her wealthy parents, who shower her with gifts while keeping her sheltered from the world. After falling for a tenderhearted mechanic who works at her father’s shop, she begins to express her own desires for the first time. Maple is grieving the sudden death of her mother, a straight-talking, fun-loving and beloved sex worker. And Agnes has spent most of her adult life trying to set herself apart from her sister. When she meets a man while on a temporary job in Utah, a string of impulsive choices leads her to a confrontation with her family.
These are dynamic characters, each with her own distinct narrative voice and particular way of looking at the world. Suzette’s first-person narration is informal, conversational and intimate. Maple’s section is raw with grief. Agnes’ story, told in the third person, is slightly distant, as if she can’t quite bear to face herself. But each woman experiences a major shift: Suzette makes a momentous decision, Maple experiences a catastrophic loss, and Agnes faces her conflicted relationships with her mother and sister.
Each section is bound to the others through themes of Black womanhood, familial expectations, grief and the power of self-determination, but instead of drawing straightforward conclusions about these connections, Birdsong leaves the reader to meditate on the questions and ideas she raises. What do these very different experiences of Black womanhood have to say about one another? How does Suzette’s story inform our understanding of Maple’s? How does Maple’s relationship with her mother influence how we read Agnes’ section? Buried in these pages are infinite conversations—about what it means to be labeled “other,” to be a part of a community, to choose something for yourself.
Nobody’s Magic is worth reading simply to spend time with these women, but the thoughtful and unexpected way that Birdsong combines their three unique stories into one is what makes the book unforgettable.