The New York Times bestselling author of This Present Darkness and “master storyteller” (Karen Kingsbury, New York Times bestselling author) crafts a stunning thriller about a grieving husband who encounters a mysterious teen identical to his dead wife. Is this magic at work or something darker?
After a car wreck tragically claims the life of his wife and magic partner, Mandy, Dane Collins finds himself in a quaint coffee shop transfixed by a magician whose illusions even he, a seasoned professional, cannot explain. Even more mysterious is the performer herself.
Nineteen-year-old Mandy has never met him, doesn’t know him, is certainly not in love with him, but is in every respect identical to the young beauty he met and married some forty years earlier. They begin a furtive relationship as mentor and protégée, but as Dane tries to figure out who Mandy really is, the two have no idea that she is being watched by those who not only possess all the answers but who also have the power to decide her fate.
Reading Group Guide
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This reading group guide forIllusionincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Frank Peretti. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Superstar magician Dane Collins has just lost his beloved wife and fellow performer Mandy in a fiery car accident. While Dane retreats to a new home in Idaho to mourn his loss, the young girl that Mandy was in 1970 suddenly finds herself alone and without identity in the year 2010. A chance encounter reunites Mandy and Dane, but now she is a girl who has never met him and he thinks he's having a delusion. As love that never died draws them into a relationship that cannot be, they are left to uncover the mysterious circumstances of their meeting, the seemingly supernatural bent to Mandy's magic, and the threatening presence following them.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Readers first meet Dane in the moment after he has lost his beloved wife, Mandy Collins. What do you learn about Dane from the very first scene? How does the first scene set up the reader for what follows? Why do you think the author chose to open the novel so violently?
2. Mandy Whitacre miraculously sits down in 1970 and stands up in 2010. What did you initially think happened to her at the fair? What did you make of the mysterious devices everyone around Mandy was using?
3. When Mandy is in the hospital she must repeatedly accept that everyone she knows and loves is either dead or gone from where she believes them to be. How do these realizations shake Mandy's faith? Can you image how you would react in the face of such adversity?
4. Mandy and Dane both find comfort in performance and magic. How does performance define their relationship with each other? With their places in the world? With the order of nature? Why do you think they both thrive from being in the public eye? What is it about magic that allows them to be free?
5. On page 153, Dane tells Mandy: "Don't lose the wonder." What is the wonder that he sees in her eyes? What does "the wonder" signify to him? How does wonder help Mandy persevere through the challenges she faces?
6. Dane retreats to a hill covered in wildflowers, "MandyÕs Meadow," to connect to his deceased wife. In what other ways do the characters connect to God through Nature? Do you have a favorite place that you like to visit? Explain what it means to you.
7. When Dane is coaching Mandy about her newfound stage persona, he urges her to know who she is beyond the lighting and the applause. Why do you think Dane cautions her in such a way? Do you think his words are wise? What is Dane really trying to caution Mandy against? How does his encouragement speak to the larger forms of encouragement we seek from people we admire or rely on, such as parents, God, beloved friends?
8. Take a moment to reflect on the two main settings of the book: Idaho and Las Vegas. How are these two locations different from each other? What does each place represent within the narrative, and how do the characters act in each one of them? In which place are Dane and Mandy their true selves?
9. Arnie is a skeptic, but a true friend to Dane and Mandy. How did you envision his importance in the book? How do you think he stands out from the other characters?
10. On page 546, Dane ruminates, "Loving her had always been easy, but somewhere along the way he just knew he had to honor her." What is the difference between love and honor? How are they similar? In what ways do you try to honor those around you? How do you try to honor your faith?
11. The novel's "villains," on page 554, spend a while thinking about the ifs of the situation in which they find themselves. How do you know that you are making the right decision? Do you ever find yourself stuck in the what ifs and if onlys of a situation? What do you think God would say to those questions?
12. Mandy's beloved doves become increasingly important throughout Illusion. If you were to choose an animal or object that holds a similar significance for you, what would it be? Would you choose something with familiar meaning, or would you invent a new symbol all your own? Share your choices with the group.
13. Has there ever been a time when you wished you could step outside of time? If you were able to do so (and choose how, unlike Mandy), when and where would you go? How would you use that power? Or would you reject the opportunity in favor of staying within your linear timeline?
14. Did the ending surprise you? Discuss your reactions as a group.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. The magic of illusion is so central to the story:partake in the mystery by learning a magic trick yourself! Visit learnmagic.com for online tutorials. Just remember to hold onto the wonder!
2. Coeur d'Alene is a tiny town, but no matter where you live, you can find that local feeling in a familiar coffee shop. Hold your meeting in a local cafe; perhaps taking additional notice of the performers whose announcements make up the bulletin board!
3. Get in touch with your nineteen-year-old self. Have everyone in your reading group bring in a photo of themselves at a younger age and tell a short story about what you were up to when you were a teenager. You can even imagine how your nineteen-year-old self would react to your current life!
A Conversation with Frank Peretti
What was new and different about this work from your other books? Did you learn anything new about yourself while writing Illusion?
Looking back, I notice that my prior novels, from the Darkness books up through The Visitation,all carried a supernatural element, from such things as angels, demons, and spiritual warfare to prophets of God, a dragon of sin, and a false Christ with weird, devilish powers. A break came with Monster; that story was all sci-fi action adventure with no blatant supernatural element. Illusion follows suit, I suppose. Though Mandy’s powers may seem supernatural, tantamount to real magic, we learn through the course of the book that there is a scientific, or “science fiction” explanation.
Just like all my novels, Illusion is a good way to observe where Frank Peretti was in his life when he wrote it. In this case I was approaching sixty myself and reflecting on my love for my wife, Barbara, and just what it means to be married and in love for almost forty years. What did I learn? Well, when you turn sixty and you’ve walked with the Lord all your life and loved one precious woman since you were nineteen, you’ll know.
While themes of love, God, faith, and devotion are central to Illusion, there are also some interesting issues having to do with science and the nature of man within the narrative. Why did you choose science as the antagonist in this story, and is there any room in your mind to reconcile such things as love and faith with scientific thought and progress?
I have nothing against science, but there have been many stories before mine that have warned about misusing science in the absence of moral principles. As I have said in my other books and public presentations, while science can provide myriad answers on the nature of things, it cannot show us the right way to live, and science unguided by an overarching moral value system can only run amok. It’s man’s nature to abuse knowledge and power, be it in the realm of science, government, or Wall Street. Take God out of the picture and you have real trouble.
I believe love and faith can dwell on this planet alongside scientific knowledge with no conflict. Just tell that to the academics out there who don’t think so.
When you picture Mandy wearing the blue sequin dress—at any age—what does it say to you? Do you have a particular outfit that you think perfectly embodies who you are inside?
Enchantment . . . the beautiful mystery of womankind . . . that special something that makes a man like me feel so alive when his wife comes into the room . . . the sparkle, the magic of a woman being beautiful. Boy, when Barb’s all decked out and looking great . . . Oh! Sorry. What were we talking about?
An outfit that embodies who I am inside? Never gave it much thought . . . unless it’s that work shirt with the elbows busted out. That comes close.
Was it difficult to write a character with the playfulness of a nineteen-year-old girl and the maturity of a fifty-nine-year-old woman? Which aspects of Mandy came naturally to you? Which were more difficult to write?
That was one of the fun character arcs of this story: Mandy starts out as a nineteen-year-old, but even though she is reverted to the age of nineteen, as the story and her struggle progress, her soul and spirit catch up with her and she gradually reaches the maturity of a woman who has lived fifty-nine years even though her body is only twenty. Kinda cool. I enjoyed working with both ages having known a very pretty girl who was only sixteen when I asked her to marry me and who is now . . . oh, I shouldn’t say, should I? As for which aspects of Mandy came naturally to me, I suppose they all did. I created and followed her character intuitively.
Do you have an Arnie, a friend who’s there for you through thick and thin?
Sure. And these friends would confront me as Arnie confronts Dane if I needed it. What are good friends for?
The two settings of the book—Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Las Vegas, Nevada—are two very different locales. Each must carry a particular thematic meaning.
I wouldn’t say that Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, or any town for that matter, is heaven on earth and free of problems, or that Las Vegas is hell on earth and no good people could possibly live there, but for what it’s worth, one can consider the symbolism of the two towns on several levels: Heaven compared to Hell. Honesty compared to Deception. Simple, Righteous Living compared to Avarice and Self-indulgence.
Truth compared to Falsehood.
Redemption and Forgiveness compared to Lostness and Sin.
The Promised Land compared to Egypt.
And the list can go on.
Bear in mind that Mandy’s struggle involves estrangement from Dane who is actually her husband. We can compare that to our estrangement from God and from Jesus our Bridegroom. Vegas is a confused and sin-stained town, a perfect place to illustrate separation from God, while a peaceful ranch in a lovely setting is a great place to illustrate reconciliation and peace with God.
The plotline of Illusion is very complex, although it revolves around only a handful of characters. What was your writing process like? How did you keep everything straight?
I’m a very methodical writer. Before computers I used reams of paper and stacks of index cards. Now I use various computer programs to brainstorm, outline, and structure my stories according to proven rules and techniques of storytelling. Generally, my notes and outlines comprise more words than my novels. I suppose that’s one reason I’m a comparatively slow writer, something that has always bothered me given the fact that other authors can turn out a book every six months while I usually take about two years. Nevertheless, my approach to writing seems to work very well for me so I guess I’ll just keep writing and learning to do it better.
Your biography on your website, FrankPeretti.com, mentions that you launched a Christian music ministry. Do you play an instrument? Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what is on your playlist?
I’ve been a musician since high school. I started on guitar and then, thanks to John Hartford playing banjo on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour way back in the ’60s, I took up the banjo and have majored on that instrument and bluegrass music for most of my adult life. I’ve been a part of several music ministries over the years, singing, playing banjo, guitar, and bass. Tons of fun. Now that I’m leading the worship at my local church, I’ve seriously taken up the guitar and it’s been loads of fun. I have no illusions: I’ll never be a professional level musician, but I love music and I’m having a wonderful time.
As for listening to music while I write, I’ve found I can’t do that. Music fascinates me so much that I end up listening to the music and not thinking about the writing. I do have a playlist, however, for when I’m fixing lunch, driving in the car, doing anything that doesn’t require intense, focused thinking. It includes some of my old favorites like Joe Pass, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed and Jose Feliciano, and Glad, my favorite vocal group of all time. As you can imagine, Bela Fleck is my musical hero. I enjoy a lot of the contemporary worship music as long as it doesn’t get too noisy. I don’t like noise. Sometimes—especially when I’m doing the bookkeeping—I tune in Mozart, Bach, a little Beethoven.
You’ve been called “America’s hottest Christian novelist.” How does your faith influence your writing?
I trust the Lord to provide me with stories that convey Biblical truths and ideas, whatever message the Lord lays on my heart. I wouldn’t want to write a book that doesn’t say anything. In Illusion, I wanted to paint a picture of our longing as Christian believers to be at home with our Bridegroom, Jesus. If that message doesn’t come across for some people, it will be enough for me to write a story about two people who managed to stay married and in love for over forty years. That’s a very timely message in itself.
What’s up next for you? Are you working on another book? Can you tell us anything about it?
Right now I think I’d like to live quietly for a while and just listen to what the Lord has to say.