‘Jesse’ by Rosemarie Robotham

Robotham, Rosemarie 1990

Jesse by Rosemarie Robotham, 1990

The magic trick:

Creating an almost-Dickensian world by combining a harshly realistic narrative with a more playful ghost story

Listen, I’m going to tell you the entire premise of this website is stupid. The idea of isolating one magic trick in a story? Dumb. The best writing is a) full of many, many magic tricks and b) the magic is invisible. The notion of isolating one so-called trick and holding it out away from the rest of the story diminishes the magic. The magic trick is that there is no magic trick.


I recognize this. And I don’t really care.

I really enjoy reading stories this way, and I hope that it is an easy way for folks to start thinking about stories and learning from them.

Anyway, I bring this up today because “Jesse” is very obvious with its magic trick, and that in itself should really disqualify it from being a magic trick. It ain’t too magical if everyone can see the wires when you fly, right?

But, again, I don’t really care. I really, really like this story a lot. So, yes, it does get a bit heavy handed with its Mad Martha nonsense. The orphan at the center of the story doesn’t remember her mother. She sits by the fence where playground lore says a ghostly old lady haunts the grounds. The orphan’s mother’s name? Martha. Of course. It’s all on the nose – almost laughably so. But it remains effective.

Dickens could be on the nose too, and he wrote some pretty good books.

Even if you can see the machinery clunking around behind the scenes, “Jesse” creates an almost-mythical little world of adolescent sadness and hope. And that’s quite a trick on Robotham’s part.

The selection:

We stood looking into Mad Martha’s yard for a long time. The wind waved the dry acacia branches, stirred up dust in the yard. Nothing else moved. Jesse seemed content to just stand there, watching for Mad Martha, the lunch hour ticking by.

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