The Magnetic Girl (Cold Mountain Fund)
We’ve known that Jessica Handler could write the heck out of a sentence since her moving account of surviving the deaths of her sisters in her memoir, Invisible Sisters. What we didn’t yet fully understand is the way that her nonfiction would prepare her so uniquely to write this strange and lovely book about a girl coming into her power — a feminist historical novel of grit and mystery. Handler knows from her own life that the flip side of grief and loss can sometimes be wonder and awe. What a pleasure to have her take us by the hand and show us that truth in the life of Lulu Hurst, who becomes a vaudeville star with ‘magical’ powers but yearns most to heal her little brother back at home.
In the late 1800s, vaudeville acts were often beyond audiences’ wildest dreams. Enter Lulu Hurst, ‘The Magnetic Girl,’ who sends men stumbling across stages with her electrical touch. Tension builds with each packed theatre up and down the East Coast as Lulu discovers her true strength. Handler takes an already-fascinating historical figure and illuminates her life.
Winner of the 2020 Southern Book Prize
Indie Next Pick, April 2019
One of the Atlanta Journal Constitution's "South's 10 best books of 2019"
Finalist for the Townsend Prize Books All Georgians Should Read from the Georgia Center for the Book
One of the Wall Street Journal's Spring Picks for books
Okra Pick from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
In this gorgeously envisioned debut, set as the emergence of electricity and women's desire for political, cultural, and sexual power electrified the country, a young woman's rise to Vaudeville fame exposes secrets of her family's past--and the keys to her own future.
In rural north Georgia two decades after the Civil War, thirteen-year-old Lulu Hurst discovers an obscure book by legendary Mesmerist Henrietta Wolf on her father's shelf. After Lulu uses Wolf's wisdom to convince a cousin she can conduct electricity with her touch, her father sees an opportunity.
Her father's lessons transform Lulu, once deemed gangly and indelicate, into an electrifying new woman: The Magnetic Girl, captivating enthusiastic crowds by lifting grown men in parlor chairs, throwing them across the stage with her "electrical charge." As her notoriety grows, Lulu harbors a secret belief that she can use the power of Mesmerism to heal her disabled baby brother, Leo, with whom she shares a profound and supernatural mental connection. To help him, she delves into the mysterious book's pages, determined to harness Wolf's teachings and convince herself, and the world, that her gifts are authentic. But will they be enough to heal her family?
Based on true events, this award-winning novel is a unique portrait of a forgotten period in history, seen through the story of one young woman's power over her family, her community, and ultimately, herself.