In his new memoir, Mark Leiren-Young, winner of the 2009 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, reminisces about six months in the late 1970s when he and a group of friends, backed (at least initially) by a famous promoter, attempted to write and produce a stage extravaganza to rival those of their idol, Canadian magician Doug Henning. Called The Initiation, the production was plagued by complications: lack of funding, flawed acting, jealous boyfriends, laughable set decorations, X-rated promotional artwork, and – most fatally – the absence of any actual magic tricks. The result was scathing reviews and a short run for the show.
Free Magic Secrets Revealed has some undeniably humourous moments, including the virginal Leiren-Young’s awkward sexual encounter with one of the cast members.But his story has a tendency to get bogged down in unnecessary and extraneous detail, diminishing the comedic impact and narrative rhythm. A white-water rafting trip with the author’s best friend and a “rite of passage” nose job, for instance, seem unrelated to the rest of the tale.
The appeal of this memoir, other than as a nostalgic look back at an age of high-school heavy metal, scantily clad women, and stage magic, is the depiction of Leiren-Young as a burgeoning artist determined to avoid law school and follow his dream to write. Unfortunately, like his failed rock ’n’ roll magic show, Leiren-Young’s book falls short of dazzling its audience.