The Magic Kingdom

Knopf. Nov. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780593535158. $30. F
Loosely based on real events, this new work from Banks (Foregone) purports to be an oral history about a small Shaker sect that operated in Central Florida in the early 20th century, on land that is now part of Walt Disney World. The account is narrated by Harley Mann, who joined the community with his family as an adolescent and spends his teen years there. The central thrust of the story involves Harley’s obsessive love for Sadie Pratt, a consumptive young woman who receives support and care from the community. As Harley’s friendship with Sadie grows into something more, his attitude toward Elder John, whom he once idolized, shifts into rivalry and contempt, leading to tragedy. By design, the narrative emerges from a limited point of view, from someone who was very young during the events depicted and is recalling them decades later. Judgment of Harley’s actions as well as the perspectives and motivations of Sadie and Elder John are left open to the reader.
VERDICT The narrative moves slowly, but copious detail of Shaker life and the philosophy of utopian communities that have largely disappeared from the American landscape, are well depicted. Well-researched historical fiction from a skilled novelist.
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