Riding With the Magi

Thomas Russell


"RIDING WITH THE MAGI is a remarkably innovative and utterly enchanting novel, and Thomas Russell is one of our most interesting and original fiction writers."  --Robert Olson Butler

  A joke that Thomas Alva Edison played on reporters was to claim he was inventing a machine to talk with the dead. By turns, this charming—and disarming—novel depicts characters trying to do just that. Thomas Russell brilliantly links the historic summertime trans-America automobile tours of Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and a dying Thomas Edison with a wistful son’s recollection of a father who penned best-selling children’s novels. Trouble is that while alive, Dad typed in the attic and paid a good deal more attention to his imaginary character Ned Jumper than he did to his real son. So with Dad’s death all that’s left for his son is to imagine himself as Ned Jumper’s mysterious and sheltered brother; just as Edison, Ford and Firestone imagine a recently demised friend as still peeping from their car windows. With amazing whimsy and ingenuity, Riding With the Magi explores the challenge of failed families, lost friends, past dreams, male-female relations—and mortality.

ISBN, trade paper: 1-931982-42-2, $15.95                Sale $8.00

ISBN, library edition: 1-931982-41-4, $27.00             Sale $13.50

310 Pages 

About the Author: 

Thomas Russell directs the writing program at the University of Memphis, where he holds a Dunavant Professorship. His poetry and fiction have been published in magazines including The Georgia Review, The Massachusettes Review, Poetry, and The American Poetry Review. He has been awarded a PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize and a Pushcart Prize and has received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Carnegie Foundation.


 Excerpt From the Book:

Imagine that the world has been boiled down to five or six blocks—the size that just fits a boy—and it is bordered by the emblematic features of a middle time (cat’s eyes and steelies, ice cream wagons, canasta cards clothes-pinned against bike spokes, glow-in-the-dark yo-yos, double-knit sport shirts, boredom, restlessness), by which I mean that the concentrated world seems so weighted that it is tipping a little to one side at the midpoint of the century. And yet everything is poised to disappear.
    To the boy there is a mystery growing. Why out of all the configurations of time and space should he be here now at this precise moment, holding himself out for all to see? Why anything? And, yet, here he is, with his mother and father in a house he knows blind and will never be able to imagine differently, he thinks.
    Once he told his mother that when he grew up he would buy the house up the street. He would never leave. Growing up was more of the same.
    “We’ll see,” his mother smiled. “Mrs. Elmond may not want to sell.”
    Then she will die, the boy thought pleasantly. Mrs. Elmond seemed very old next to his parents. She was so old she had already lost a grownup child. She seemed confined now to this decade they were in, this decade when he was still a child and Mrs. Elmond was getting older every day.
    Perhaps, it was at that very moment, on that very innocuous day, while sizing up his likely chances of owning Mrs. Elmond’s run-down house so he could live beside his parents forever, that the boy realized suddenly what time was. It was him getting older while remaining the same. It was his parents never changing from the way they were. Suddenly, he saw something so clearly that it frightened him. Now, this moment, this ordinary day, this kitchen he was standing in, his mother smiling at what he had said, his father working upstairs—all this!—all this was already a dead memory in his future. And, most of all, he was a memory, too. He would have to be grown up right now. This year they were in, 1953; this very month, March; nine o’clock, the hour they were in—all this specificity of the present, which seemed so sure, so solid, so plausible, would have to be repeated again in 1963 or 1973 or even—who could imagine it?—the year 2000. And by then he might be as old as Mrs. Elmond.