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The Magic Kingdom

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  375 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Brimming with Elkin's comic brilliance and singular wordplay, The Magic Kingdom tells the story of Eddy Bale, who, determined to learn from the ghastly experience of his son's long, drawn-out death, decides to raise enough money to take seven terminally ill children to Disney World in order to give them a dream vacation before they die.
Paperback, 317 pages
Published September 1st 2000 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1985)
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3.61  · 
Rating details
 ·  375 ratings  ·  54 reviews

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MJ Nicholls
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Exuberance is the perfect descriptor for Elkin’s works. Like his bunkmate Bill Gass, his fictions swing to their own rhythms, refuse to conform to any cosily crafted preconception of a satisfying sellable sentence, and demonstrate a fearless dexterity over the English language that would make any spindle-shanked homeboy raised on Eudora Welty and F. Scott Fitz soil his carefully stapled MFA thesis. My first Elkin inroad was The Franchiser, a supersized maxi-novel snapping its dungaree straps and ...more
The wonderful Dalkey archive have a great casebook online with some free essays on this book:

The "Make a wish" foundation states its mission as the following:

Wishes are more than just a nice thing
A wish experience can be a game-changer for a child with a life-threatening medical condition.

This one belief guides us in everything we do at Make-A-Wish®. It inspires us to grant wishes that change the lives of the kids we serve. It compels us to be creati
What a tightrope walk, what an accomplishment! You have to be a master to handle this subject matter (which, of course, Elkin is) with any sort of grace. O, what grace. What mercy he affords our ill-doomed detachment of the walking dead. The Magic Kingdom perfectly balances the simultaneous pains and humors of life without ever dissolving into pity, something that would be easy to do considering.

This is a celebration of existence—best witnessed in the virtuosic ‘Parade of the Normal’ chapter—as
Josh Friedlander
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
A thrillingly unique book. Weird topic, baroque sentence structures (everything is repeated in increasingly rare synonyms, like a hyper-verbose echo), a plot that wends through Buckingham Palace and Disney World in a morbid, yet matter-of-fact, monotone. Elkin lived much of his later life with Multiple Sclerosis, and this chronicle of pain and palliative care in the land of magic consumerism suggests that all of us - with moles, flab, nostril hair and varicose veins - are suffering, or temporari ...more
Nov 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
Dinner party, guy in a circle, tells a story, one by one people leave, until it's just you, guy keeps telling the story, to just you, and won't stop, he's in a wheelchair. Your eyes glaze over. You look down at the drink in your hand. It's empty.
Peter Landau
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
THE MAGIC KINGDOM is a comic novel by Stanley Elkin, which is comic to a degree, but very novel. The story of taking terminally ill children on a dream vacation to Disney World is a premise that didn't hold much promise for me, it seemed like a gangster going to a therapist or cops and robbers, but then THE SOPRANOS and THE WIRE are two of my favorite recent TV series. And like those shows, plot is not the engine driving this book. It's the style of the writing and the characters, who are writte ...more
Jun 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Writers
Recommended to Jeremy by: Me
Yeah, it was a weird book.

It was about weakness in the face of a finite life, and for this Elkin used terminally ill children and their caretakers.

Of course Elkin never wrote a child character in his life, so the children are these wizened little goblins and elves, sometimes spouting more wisdom and displaying more reason than the adults, which is to say: Any at all.

The adults in the book: A father obsessed because of his son's death from a rare untreatable disease, a compulsive masturbating nur
Jul 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
The style of this book, it's diction so to speak, the phrasing and overall treatment of every single paragraph (also including, but not limited to the many asides (many asides coming within asides of asides themselves) stuffed together like soldiers in a trench, shivering for their lives with the enemy not 50 yards away, like money, forgotten, but stashed under a matress patiently waiting for a use that will never come), because everything has a reasonable explanation, made this book a more frus ...more
Lisa Vegan
Jul 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone whose sense of humor can include a combination of dying children & Disney
A hilarious book about terminally ill children. Really. A take off on a “make a wish” type of scenario involving a group of sick children on a trip to Disney’s The Magic Kingdom. Wickedly funny. It’s mostly satire. but the kids are interesting. And I think I particularly enjoyed it because at the time I was a Disney fan.
Jul 15, 2008 rated it did not like it
The comedy was laboured, the social observation weak, the language obfuscatory to the point of despair.

And, worse, it was really quite uninteresting, despite a potentially strong subject.
Jun 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This has quickly become my favorite Elkin novel. Like Elkin's George Mills, The Magic Kingdom appears to cover nearly every major and minor human question and a ridiculously broad expanse of public and private experience, but unlike the former book's crammed-to-bursting Tristram Shandy-esque series of digressions and stories-within-stories, this novel's narrative is concise, focused, and relatively straightforward (for Elkin, anyway) without losing any of his wild strangeness or detailed observa ...more
Karen Polakiewicz
Nov 13, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: stopped-reading
I couldn't even get through the first chapter. This book used a lot of big vocabulary which I could use context clues to figure out but it just wasn't a fun read. I like the idea of helping children with needs but I couldn't enjoy it so I stopped reading.
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
I felt this novel was reminiscent of Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Like Eggers, Elkin uses a childish, outlandish voice as an attempt at not only humor, but a grief-driven narrative which knows little intellect for all the pain he has suffered from the loss of a child.

However, the prose is no masterpiece. It is written in the urgency of a grieving person, beautiful in its cause and using heart-centered, poetic prose. But it is not finely crafted or slaved over in the w
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Audacious in language and ambition.
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Elkin is a master of the sentence. he pulls life and suffering from the humor and humor from the suffering. but this one is more a story than a novel.
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Having only read the early short fictions collected in CRIERS & KIBITZERS, KIBITZERS & CRIERS, and having been dutifully informed that that collection contains merely in embryonic and muted form a writing style that would subsequently become positively pyrotechnic, I was excited as hell to finally dig into one of Elkin's mature novels. Sure enough and yes indeed, the primary selling point of THE MAGIC KINGDOM is its awe-inspiring floral tapestry of language fireworks. Elkin is often comp ...more
Nov 23, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this book more than I did. It seemed like the kind of gallows humor that appeals to me and it's pretty clear that it was crafted by a deft hand that's sure of its style and purpose, but it just never resonated with me.

If most books could be described as being like a pop song verse-chorus-verse The Magic Kingdom is like jazz, and not the accessible Steely Dan style pop/rock infused jazz. Sentences in this book step away from their point into parentheticals and stroll around for
Sep 20, 2012 added it
Shelves: in-library

“A splendid work of fiction.” —_Newsday_

“Hysterical and profound . . . Earns its place among the dark voyages that fiction must chronicle.” —_The New York Times_

Product Description

“Among Mr. Elkin’s best works of fiction . . . A comedy that cuts so many ways that it leaves us bleeding with laughter.” —_The New York Times_

Eddy Bale’s twelve-year-old son died after a terrible, drawn-out illness. Now, determined to help alleviate the suffering of other sick children, Eddy plans to take a

Bruce Paley
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is a case of an author failing to deliver on a wonderful premise, that of a bunch of terminally ill British children taken on a trip to Disney World. Elkin is known for putting style over substance with his excessive wordiness, which has been likened to the improvisations of a jazz musician, and while this may have worked for Jack Kerouac, and perhaps may have worked better in Elkin's other books, here the prose is leaden and verbose. His endless, introspective, asides mostly act as impedim ...more
Dec 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
A reviewer in TIME magazine called Elkin "the grown-up's Vonnegut." Well, I think Vonnegut was pretty damned grown-up in Slaughterhouse Five and Galapagos. The bottom line is the old apples-oranges deal: Vonnegut wrote tragedy in a satiric vein, Elkin wrote it in a comic one. That noted, The Magic Kingdom is divine. A comedy about seven British children with terminal illnesses travelling on a last-wish junket to Disneyworld? No, a tragedy with comic overtones about seven children with terminal i ...more
Tim Storm
Elkins' language and sentence-crafting is about as impressive as it gets for a novelist. The plot itself isn't as full of wonder and surprise, doesn't have the same how-the-hell-did-he-do-that sense of crafting. And occasionally, the language gets lost in its own clause and phrase subordination--to the point that it's difficult to follow. I understand the criticism of the novel and I don't totally disagree. But there are passages that are breathtakingly beautiful, and Elkins characterizes his dy ...more
Jul 17, 2009 added it
Recommends it for: no one
Listened to Audio version

First Audio read by a Brit that I couldn't finish.
Reference Stuart's review.
In spite of the father's wish to do something kind for the dying children, there was no real human connection with them. The premise was very interesting- the development, no.
If I am ever dying similarly to one of these children's experience, I surely would wish for a nurse with more compassion, a Nanny with more interests than her sexual desire and a
Aug 07, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
Ugh this was ridiculous, but I hung in there and read the whole thing. There were some funny parts with exchanges between characters and humorous scenes. But overall a mess. I can see where Elkin was heavily influenced by Faulkner but the page long sentences with side thoughts within thoughts within flashbacks...I don't get it! I live in Orlando and worked for Walt Disney World for several years so I was really hanging in for the humor revolving around the theme park, but overall not worth the t ...more
Ben Bush
Mar 09, 2010 added it
Shelves: read-in-la
Elkin does some dazzling feats with language in here. It's not a slow read or a difficult read but I will say that it's better enjoyed over coffee than lying down in bed at least for the first 150 pages or so until you get the feel for it. I saved Moody's introduction until afterwards and so hadn't realized that Elkin was himself battling M.S. at the time of the writing. It certainly takes a bit of the meanness out of mocking children with terminal illnesses. Some parts work better than others b ...more
It's not the novel The Living End is, and it does ramble a bit, but it's still Stanley Elkin's comic voice. That being said, Elkin has set himself up for one hell of a challenge in writing a book like this-- writing a book about dying kids that is actually funny and actually humane is no small task, and there are very few writers who could accomplish it, in the same way there are very few genuinely humorous writers. 90% of supposedly “comic” fiction tends to be both unfunny, and bad fiction.
Althea J.
Sep 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
The story is so simple but the writing is blowing my mind. I am totally caught up in the rapid flow of words and ideas. Elkin is nimble, getting inside the peculiarities of each individual character.

I will definitely be checking out more of Elkin's work, if only to see if this is his consistent stylistic voice, or if it is specific to this book. Either way, I want more.
Jan Frew
Oct 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
There should be some kind of warning that there is vulgar language and lots of annoying sexual sidebar situations and descriptions that make this book very undesireable reading. I read several chapters thinking it has to get better. The premise sounded good and uplifting. It was not! Don't waste your time reading this weird, bizarre book.
Feb 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Strange and comic and touching story of a misfit band of Make-A-Wish-Foundation children running amuck in the Magic Kingdom. Let's just say, I'll never forget the phrase, "You haven't been blown, 'til you've been blown by a Gale."
Jun 15, 2011 rated it did not like it
Terrible! Strange! Extremely odd! And because I couldn't get into liking the novel, the way the author writes (with page-long sentences with a million parentheses interrupting throughout) was extremely distracting. Never recommending this to anyone!
May 04, 2015 rated it liked it
It's overwritted to the nth degree, but I quite liked this approach. Personally I wasn't convinced on the overall message, and thought there were a few too many characters.
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Stanley Lawrence Elkin was a Jewish American novelist, short story writer, and essayist. His extravagant, satirical fiction revolves around American consumerism, popular culture, and male-female relationships.

During his career, Elkin published ten novels, two volumes of novellas, two books of short stories, a collection of essays, and one (unproduced) screenplay. Elkin's work revolves about Americ