The Girl in the Glass: A Novel

The Girl in the Glass: A Novel

by Jeffrey Ford


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The Great Depression has bound a nation in despair -- and only a privileged few have risen above it: the exorbitantly wealthy ... and the hucksters who feed upon them. Diego, a seventeen-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant, owes his salvation to master grifter Thomas Schell. Together with Schell's gruff and powerful partner, they sail comfortably through hard times, scamming New York's grieving rich with elaborate, ingeniously staged séances -- until an impossible occurrence changes everything.

While "communing with spirits," Schell sees an image of a young girl in a pane of glass, silently entreating the con man for help. Though well aware that his otherworldly "powers" are a sham, Schell inexplicably offers his services to help find the lost child -- drawing Diego along with him into a tangled maze of deadly secrets and terrible experimentation.

At once a hypnotically compelling mystery and a stunningly evocative portrait of Depression-era New York, The Girl in the Glass is a masterly literary adventure from a writer of exemplary vision and skill.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060936198
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/16/2005
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 538,417
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jeffrey Ford is the author of the novels The Physiognomy, Memoranda, The Beyond, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, the Edgar Award–winning The Girl in the Glass, The Cosmology of the Wider World, The Shadow Year, and The Twilight Pariah, and his collections include The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Empire of Ice Cream, The Drowned Life, Crackpot Palace, and A Natural History of Hell. He lives near Columbus, Ohio, and teaches writing at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Read an Excerpt

The Girl in the Glass

A Novel
By Jeffrey Ford

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Jeffrey Ford
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060936193

Chapter One

A Medium to Truth

Some days ago I sat by the window in my room, counting the number of sedative pills I've palmed over the course of the last three months. Even though my fingers tremble, I've discovered that the erratic action can be a boon to tricks involving sleight of hand. In the midst of my tabulation, I happened to look outside at the beautiful summer day. A breeze was blowing through the trees that bordered the small courtyard, and their silver-backed leaves flashed in the sunlight. It was then that I noticed a bright yellow butterfly flutter past and come to rest on the head of the weathered concrete Virgin that sits amid the colorful zinnias that nurse Carmen had planted in the spring. The orange dot on its lower wings told me it was an alfalfa, Colias eurytheme.

The sight of this beautiful creature immediately reminded me of my benefactor and surrogate father, Thomas Schell, and I was swept back to my youth, far away in another country. I sat that day for hours, contemplating a series of events that took place sixty-seven years ago, in 1932, when I was seventeen. Decades have since died and been laid to rest, not to mention loved ones and personal dreams, but still that distant time materializes before me like a restless spirit at a seance, insisting its story be told. Of course, now with pen in hand, I have no choice but to be a medium to its truths. All I ask is that you believe.

Ectoplasmic Precipitation

Every time the widow Morrison cried, she farted, long and low like a call from beyond the grave. I almost busted a gut but had to keep it under my turban. There could certainly be no laughter from Ondoo, which was me, the spiritual savant of the subcontinent.

We were sitting in the dark, holding hands in a circle, attempting to contact Garfield Morrison, the widow's long-dead husband, who fittingly enough had succumbed to mustard gas in a trench in France. Thomas Schell, ringmaster of this soiree, sat across from me, looking, in the glow from the candlelight, like a king of corpses himself -- eyes rolled back, possessed of a bloodless pallor, wearing an expression straight from a nightmare of frantic pursuit.

To my right, holding fast to the gloved dummy hand that stuck out of the end of my jacket sleeve, was the widow's sister, Luqueer, a thin, dried-out cornstalk of a crone, decked with diamonds, whose teeth rattled like shaken dice, and next to her was the young, beautiful niece (I forget her name), whom I rather wished was holding my prosthesis.

On my other side was the widow herself, and between her and Schell sat Milton, the niece's fiance, your typical scoffing unbeliever. He'd told us during our preliminary meeting with the widow that he was skeptical of our abilities; a fast follower of Dunninger and Houdini. Schell had nodded calmly at this news but said nothing.

We didn't have to sit there long before Garfield made his presence known by causing the flame on the candle at the center of the table to gutter and dance.

"Are you there?" called Schell, releasing his hands from those of the participants on either side of him and raising his arms out in front.

He let a few moments pass to up the ante, and then, from just behind Milton's left shoulder, came a mumble, a grumble, a groan. Milton jerked his head around to see who it was and found only air. The niece gave a little yelp and the widow called out, "Garfield, is it you?"

Then Schell opened his mouth wide, gave a sigh of agony, and a huge brown moth flew out. It made a circuit of the table, brushing the lashes of the young lady, causing her to shake her head in disgust. After perching briefly on the widow's dress, just above her heart (where earlier Schell had inconspicuously marked her with a dab of sugar water), it took to circling the flame. The table moved slightly, and there came a rhythmic noise, as if someone was rapping his knuckle against it. Which, in fact, someone was: it was me, from underneath, using the knuckle of my big toe.

Ghostly sobbing filled the dark, which was my cue to slowly move my free arm inside my jacket, reach out at the collar for the pendant on my neck, and flip it around to reveal the back, which held a glass-encased portrait of Garfield. While the assembled family watched the moth orbit closer and closer to fiery destruction, Schell switched on the tiny beacon in his right sleeve while with his left hand he pumped the rubber ball attached to a thin hose beneath his jacket. A fine mist of water vapor shot forth from a hole in the flower on his lapel, creating an invisible screen in the air above the table.

Just as the moth ditched into the flame, which surged with a crackle, sending a thin trail of smoke toward the ceiling, the beam of light from within Schell's sleeve hit my pendant, and I adjusted my position to direct the reflection upward into the vapor.

"I'm here, Margaret," said a booming voice from nowhere and everywhere. Garfield's misty visage materialized above us. He stared hard out of death, his top lip curled back, his nostrils flared, as if even in the afterlife he'd caught wind of his wife's grief. The widow's sister took one look at him, croaked like a frog, and conked out cold onto the table. The widow herself let go of my hand and reached out toward the stern countenance.

"Garfield," she said. "Garfield, I miss you."

"And I you," said the phantom.

"Are you in pain?" she asked. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. All's well here," he said.

"How do I know it's really you?" she asked, holding one hand to her heart.


Excerpted from The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford Copyright © 2005 by Jeffrey Ford.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Girl in the Glass 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It really had a feel of the time and place in which it was set. Could not put it down. Character development and plot were top notch!
CSegura More than 1 year ago
This was required reading for my English Course, I normally hate required reading. I can't thank my Prof enough for this one. I am so happy to own it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A mix of surreal, historical, and mystery and with some interesting characters and well written. The end was probably the weakess part of the book, but it was still a fun ride.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. The story was unique. Although I found myself skimming over some of the descriptive lead ins to the action scenes and some of the action was a bit hard to follow. This was a book you could put down and forget for a while. A good beach read. The author also used some Spanish dialog without translation and I always find that extremely annoying in a book. Add the foreign language for authenticity by all means but please translate!
piemouth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A mediocre mystery set in the 30s. Con men who put on phony séances for rich people get involved in solving a murder. It's a lively story but lightweight ¿ they don't talk right for the period, and the characters aren't well drawn. Plus there are various cliché characters ¿ the strong man with a heart of gold, the orphan who's been adopted by a quirky con man. It's just a standard grade C mystery. I realized it fooled me because it's a trade paperback. If it were pocket book size, I'd never have picked it up.
PamelaDLloyd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book which seamlessly works elements of subtle fantasy, a story about a good deed done by con artists, spiritualism, lepidopterology, immigration, eugenics, and racism into a novel set during the Great Depression. This was the first thing I'd read by Jefferey Ford, but I'll be looking for more of his work.
FicusFan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a RL book group. It is a quiet little story that is packed full of interesting tidbits. It is a mystery, historical fiction, science fiction, adventure and history with a bit of supernatural, or maybe a con ?It is a mystery story set in The Depression on Long Island. The focus of the story is a small band of spiritualists. Con men who prey on the bereaved wealthy who are interested in the spirit world. Although they could be despicable characters, they are not. Yet they don't flinch from actually fleecing their marks.The leader of the band is the gruff, yet cultured butterfly aficionado Thomas Schell. He has taken in a young illegal Mexican immigrant orphan, Diego. Thomas has been training Diego to be an Indian (Asian) Swami, to use his dark skin to hide Diego from the notice of the authorities. Times are tough and feeling is running high against the Mexicans who are seen to be taking American jobs. Anyone seeming to be Mexican is deported. Hmmm.Thomas has connections in the carny/circus/freak shows of NYC and he uses them to help train Diego. Thomas also tries to educate him and raise him as a son. He doesn't shelter Diego, but actually uses him in his cons.One night during a performance, Thomas sees the reflection of a young, small girl in the window glass. He is shaken because she is not part of his show/con. There is a story Thomas reads later in the paper about the young daughter of a rich family that has gone missing. It is a family that has used the services of Thomas' crew for a death in the family.Thomas and his crew go to the family, find the image he saw is the daughter, and offer to help in the search. There is already another 'medium' there. They seem to work together. The woman is not what she seems, even for a con artist. The story develops with their search for the girl, and for those who are responsible. It leads to fact based American Nazi sympathizers of the time, those who support the idea of racial purity, eugenics experiments and a rousing rescue.Thomas then lets on that he made up the sighting of the girl in the glass .... or did he ?The story is told from Diego's POV as he lives, grows, and participates in Thomas' cons and in the odd family life he has constructed. Diego reaches a point where he has to make a decision about the course of his life. The story also has a satisfying follow up years later to see the consequences of his decision, and ends with a twist.The writing was very good, the characters and the setting were done well. It was interesting and had good emotional resonance. It was also set during a time that I have not spent much time reading about, so I enjoyed the novelty. Very good read.
Rubbah on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jeffrey Ford is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, and has yet to disapoint me, whether in a full length novel or in his short stories( which I highly recommend). The Girl in the Glass is told from the point of view of Diego, a Mexican illegal immigrant in the depression years of New York City. In order to prevent his deportation, he is constantly disguised as Ondoo, the indian swami, and he makes his living with the conmen who took him as fake spiritualists. One day his benefactor Schell sees the ghost of a girl in the glass, and they are taken on an adventure involving a conspiracy that soon jeapardises their lives. Jeffrey Ford excells in the small touches of the supernatural in his relaistic settings, meaning that the reader is never entirely comfortable with explanations and actions, adding to the thrill of reading the book. All in all a great read.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't realize when I got it that it was going to be so incredibly good. I read it all in one sitting, in about 2 and a half hours, without moving from my spot. It's funny, serious and you get a whodunit as well in the bargain.I'll try to outline this (no spoilers) but you absolutely MUST go read it for yourself. I'm so happy I read it.This book is set in early 1930s America, during the Depression. To keep himself employed, con man extraordinaire Tom Schell (who is obsessed with butterflies), along with his "ward" Diego, an illegal Mexican immigrant, get into the homes of the upper east coast wealthy by posing as a medium and his assistant. Tom is the medium, Diego (who also narrates the events of this story) is his trusty Hindu assistant, Ondoo. There's also Schell's trusty jack-of-all-trades (including driving and pistol packing) henchman Anthony. Tom also has a host of "associates" he can call on for help in pretty much any given situation. The seance sessions tend to go very well, and those who request the seances tend to pay very well. Both Tom & Diego have fun with their work until they are doing a seance and Tom sees a vision of a little girl in a pane of glass. He didn't set up the con, nor did Diego. So is it real? Has Tom stumbled onto powers he doesn't know he has? I won't say any more about the plot. You must find out for yourself.There is a great scene in this book toward the end that made me laugh out loud and made me think that this book could really work well as a movie. But aside from all of the funny stuff, and all of the hoodoo, there's a serious note to this story, one that sort of sobered me and made me do an "aha" at the end. If you don't mind a bit of irreverent humor amidst a whodunit, you'll really like this one. Don't forget the Acknowledgments section in the back.Jeffrey Ford is an awesome writer, one not to be missed. Again...quite good, a fun read, but with a message. Recommended, for sure!
bibliojim on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Superb! Excellent mystery, excellent characterizations, excellent historical perspective. Incidental commentary about the effects of prejudice. I wish every book were this good, I'd finish a lot more of them. A quote from the back cover sums it up: "At once a hypnotically compelling mystery and a stunningly evocative portrait of Depression-era New York, The Girl in the Glass is a masterly literary adventure from a writer of exemplary vision and skill." Couldn't have said it better myself - that's exactly what I found.
Brandie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although I wouldn't have thought I might like this book at first, I was surprisingly sucked into the book very quickly! I really didn't want to put it down. I will definitely be reading this author again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Faat paced
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Depression era con artists, murder, ghosts and butterfles. Great combination. Enjoyed every word.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I did not like any of the characters in the story as they had very little depth. The wrap up at the end was silly and contrived and the author introduced too many people as he tried to solve the mystery. I would have quit reading it but it was my book club's selection.