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‘AMORALMAN’ a memoir of depth and deception

March 2, 2021
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Introspection is difficult. Looking within ourselves and asking questions about who we are is a challenge that the vast majority of us are unable (or unwilling) to face. One can pay lip service to the notion of self-examination, but the actual doing is hard.

Too often, memoirs trend toward the lip service side of things. That’s not a judgment – it’s tough enough to tell the story of your truth to yourself, let alone to the world. It just means that the autobiographical explorations that really dig into a person’s identity are vanishingly rare.

Derek DelGaudio’s “AMORALMAN: A True Story and Other Lies” (Knopf, $27) is such a rarity, a work of thoughtful, honest self-awareness that isn’t quite like anything I’d ever read before. And believe me – that’s a good thing. It’s a story of truth that is unafraid of untruth, which might sound contradictory, but when you delve into DelGaudio’s words, it makes perfect sense.

This book is magic in multiple senses of the word. It is magic because it is narratively transportive, a book that sweeps the reader up into the world being created, pages crammed with vivid storytelling. But it is also magic in the performative sense, in that it is also about the art of stage magic, specifically sleight-of-hand. And it is magic in that it allows its author to reinvestigate his own history, to use the perspective of the present to change his view of the past – a transformation of both the man he is and the man he once was.

When Derek DelGaudio was a young man, he developed an affinity for (some might say obsession with) the art of prestidigitation – sleight of hand. This devotion to the creation of illusion stayed with him, allowing him to develop a unique set of skills that in many ways transcended the significant gifts of those who came before him.

We learn about his early life, from a father who departed from his life early on to a mother who struggled to raise him alone even as she dealt with drastic changes in her own world. Secrets became a key part of DelGaudio’s everyday life – particularly when he learned a harsh lesson in what can happen when certain secrets are revealed.

His direction is changed forever when he discovers a magic shop, run by a gentleman who would become both a mentor and more than a mentor. This is where DelGaudio’s destiny is cemented, where he begins to learn the skills and techniques that would inform the rest of his life. It is also the beginning of his introduction into some more unsavory circles, when his sphere expands from stage magicians and the like into the shadowy realm of card sharps and mechanics, men whose devotion to making a deck of cards dance wasn’t about performance, but profit. His skills are such that he impresses even these hardened warriors of the poker table, gaining access to some of the hard-won skills that those grizzled grifters possess.

Add another secret to the deck – one that comes at a cost.

When DelGaudio’s path leads him to a crooked high-stakes card game – one where he is enlisted as a dealer to help the house fix the proceedings – he begins to put his skills to use in a very different way. And while he has some initial misgivings, he soon learns that not only is he capable of doing what it takes to fix a card game, he’s good at it. REALLY good.

But that time at the table, while lucrative, comes with its own cost. Specifically, he’s left asking himself the creeping question: am I a good person?

“AMORALMAN” is everything I want in a memoir, including a few things that I didn’t even know I wanted before I read it. It is among the most compelling works of autobiography that I’ve ever read; DelGaudio’s stories of his life would be fascinating enough on their own, but when driven by his tremendous storytelling talents, they’re elevated to the nth degree. It’s as though DelGaudio broke down the form into its component parts and then reassembled them with the same dexterous deftness with which he handles a deck of cards.

And make no mistake, he’s as gifted a memory mechanic as he is a card mechanic. Even with a more-or-less linear narrative thread, DelGaudio proves unafraid to occasionally deal from the middle or the bottom of the deck, giving us the hand he wants us to have rather than leaving it up to fate. He doesn’t want us to have a chance to win, but a guarantee. In his hands, the game is not a game, but a foregone conclusion.

The idea that one could bring to life the intricacies of this world through the written word, both in the macro sense of interpersonal dynamics and in the micro sense of sleight of hand minutiae, would seem nigh-impossible on its face. Yet DelGaudio does it with seeming ease – the reader can feel the stresses and satisfactions of it all, brought to bright life.

There’s a brilliant framing story, one that ties it all together and whose details I’ll let you discover for yourself. Oh, and it all kicks off with a version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. All of this, mind you, pays off at high-stakes-fixed-card-game levels.

“AMORALMAN” is a memoir unlike any other, beautifully written and brilliantly conceived. Derek DelGaudio is an artist whose work defies categorization; this book is an unexpected, yet completely logical extension of the also-brilliant stage show “In & Of Itself” (which, if you haven’t seen it, there’s a filmed version on Hulu and you have never seen its like). He is a one-of-one, a creative unicorn – a legitimately unique talent. I genuinely cannot wait to see what he does next.

Last modified on Tuesday, 02 March 2021 11:42

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