Tidewater Review - September 2012

Wizard Ho!

as reviewed by

Anne Stinson

Wizard Ho! The Columbiad Book 7 by Gerald F. Sweeney. Booklocker Publishers. 380 pages. $19.95.
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the dream destination for youths, the most seductive end of the rainbow, was New York. More precisely, Manhattan. Hordes of young people, rubes from the boonies, starry-eyed wannabes hoping for a role on the stage or in television, poured into the city. Manhattan was magic, The Big Apple, the Top of the Heap.
Jerry Sweeney has made it the focus of this book, the seventh and final one of his Columbiad series, narrating four generations of the Mahoney family. Sweeney has skipped around a bit in writing the saga – still missing are books four and five, which are in the works, to be published soon.
The East Side of the island is where the money is, then as now, where the big corporations have their office buildings, the wealthy have their mansions and the endowed libraries, the museums and concert halls. The West Side is the locale of the fictional Jim Mahoney’s apartment in an old hotel shared by neighboring apartment tenants. Until recently, Jim has not been a happy man. He’s in his middle 50s, divorced with two estanged children, and he’s working as a journalist. The source of his current happiness is Ruth, his 27-year-old black beauty, a rising star in the magazine business. They’re a mixed-race couple, not married but strongly committed to each other. Jim’s other passion is his love of American music, from the primitive sounds of Appalachian folk songs through cakewalks, ragtime, jazz, swing and the modern dissonance of Ives and Copeland.
And that’s where the Wizard comes into the picture – Jim has listened to the Wizard’s radio shows since he was a teenager in Chicago, tutored by the Wizard’s enthusiasm for the musical styles that Jim now favors. His music mentor also admires this country and celebrates the statue of Columbia as the real symbol of America’s role model. When the rare voice of the Wizard comes from the radio, Jim follows every word and bar of music during the broadcast.
Being a fan of Wizard takes stamina. The broadcast that Jim hears in Manhattan is unscheduled and out of reach of the FCC, the government nanny of the airwaves. Wizard and his sidekick, Ripple, outfox every trap to locate their clandestine moving target.
Jim decides that he will draft their friends from the apartment building on a search to find the Wizard and thank him while he’s still alive and evading the law. The climax of the tale comes on New Year’s Eve 1999, the end of the century, at a big party to celebrate the coming new millennium. It is, alas, also the end of some cherished bonds in this fascinating story, embellished by a poignant postscript.
This reader hesitates to wonder how closely the novel parallels the real life of the author ... Sweeney spent part of his career commuting from Long Island to Manhattan, where he had various roles in the magazine world – including publisher.
Unrelated to Wizard Ho! and the other stand-alone novels in the Columbiad series, his writing has also appeared in many publications, including Newsday and the New York Times Op Ed page.
Retired after a stint working in Europe, he now lives in Trappe, where he is busy typing away at the two missing novels in the series. His work reveals a first rate, professional talent with a glorious gift for making his characters so real they stick in the reader’s mind like treasured friends. That’s not easy to do and is a joy when it happens.
Highly recommended. This reader is eagerly awaiting the two missing links in the Mahoney family tree.

Anne Stinson began her career in the 1950s as a free lance for the now defunct Baltimore News-American, then later for Chesapeake Publishing, the Baltimore Sun and Maryland Public Television’s panel show, Maryland Newsrap. Now in her ninth decade, she still writes a monthly book review for Tidewater Times.