Rather than overlap, the novellas resonate with one another, allowing Birdsong, a poet, to display an impressive range of perspectives. The book also illuminates the lived-in corners of a multifaceted city, where headlines like gentrification, economic precarity and crime take on a human scale ... One striking source of resonance is Birdsong’s depiction of her characters’ sexuality: frank, unembarrassed and often delightful ... Birdsong risks unlikability with her characters, allowing them selfishness, rage, violence, helplessness and mistakes large and small. As a result, they feel as idiosyncratic, unpredictable and real as people from life, speaking in voices that are melodic and utterly specific. The magic here is not the supernatural kind, but rather an attention to the grace of the ordinary. It is the magic of watching these women come into their power.
Every single person in this book has an understandable — though not always laudable — desire ... Even when, like Agnes, the characters mess up, we’re right there with them, understanding their motivation. Birdsong’s prose sings with a poet’s sensibility, so each story is carried along with pitch-perfect rhythm and nuanced understanding of human foibles. In the end, Agnes, Suzette and Maple are true to themselves, stepping into their own power and defying predictable solutions.
... a masterfully crafted and sometimes painfully honest story ... This unusual novel is built on spaciousness and silence, with each section reading almost like a novella ... These are dynamic characters, each with her own distinct narrative voice and particular way of looking at the world ... Each section is bound to the others through themes of Black womanhood, familial expectations, grief and the power of self-determination, but instead of drawing straightforward conclusions about these connections, Birdsong leaves the reader to meditate on the questions and ideas she raises ... Buried in these pages are infinite conversations—about what it means to be labeled 'other,' to be a part of a community, to choose something for yourself ... worth reading simply to spend time with these women, but the thoughtful and unexpected way that Birdsong combines their three unique stories into one is what makes the book unforgettable.
...with three young women so vibrantly portrayed, it’s easy to imagine a cult following ... these three women may have light skin, but they’re very much Black women. The complex dichotomy is fascinating terrain to explore, which Birdsong, herself a Black woman with albinism, does with poignancy and grace ... It’s an astute and moving meditation on the ways social and racial histories shape oneself ... These stories are meant to be read as separate panels, portraits of each of these women, which complement one another, sometimes drawing parallels yet always feeling distinct. The novel is satisfying when read this way: like one does a story collection, taking each on its own terms, then looking at the thematic overlap—of which here, there’s plenty ... These three women are so distinct and real they will undoubtedly be remembered by readers years later, the hallmark of iconic characters.
The three women’s stories do not intersect per se, but together, they paint a powerful portrait of womanhood and the beautiful mess that comes along with it. Through these beautifully flawed women, Nobody’s Magic becomes a celebration of sexuality, friendship, family and love ... The prose are careful and deliberate, and every moment is filled with meaning. It’s a stunning read, with each woman wholly unique in her complexity and desires.
Suzette’s story, Drive, is an overlong coming-of-age tale with a fairly predictable denouement redeemed by a poignant depiction of a sheltered girl ... Maple’s odyssey in Bottled Water is a more interesting saga of devastating loss and grief overcome with the help of a man who has his own experience of bereavement to deal with. Maple’s Momi is a fabulously vital character, inappropriately open with her daughter about sex and drugs but lovingly accepting of the white skin that Maple—like Suzette—thinks makes her undesirable. We see in Mind the Prompt that Agnes’ experiences of being mocked for her skin color in high school by her social-climbing sister have scarred her emotionally to the extent that she can’t keep a job and lives with an abusive man, but even this keeningly sad tale offers hope in a denouement that shows Agnes, like Suzette and Maple, tentatively embracing a new beginning ... A thoughtful examination of a subject rarely addressed in contemporary literature.