Sunday, November 3, 2013

'The Museum of Extraordinary Things'

I know, I know...

It's been a while since I last posted a book recommend, and for that, I'm sorry.  But my job now includes listing items on Ebay, and that's been taking up a lot of my time.  I've also had to deal with two sick kitties, and that's no picnic in Book Hog's world.  

One of the cats has recovered and is back to his crazy little self.  But my best furry friend, Molly, is still having a difficult time.  

So, when a wonderful box of advance reading copies arrived at my door, I tore it open, squealed with delight, grabbed Molly, and together we cuddled and started reading Alice Hoffman's newest book, 'The Museum of Extraordinary Things'.

I've been a Hoffman fan for many years, and was absolutely stunned by her last novel, 'The Dovekeepers'.  Brilliant, well-paced, and tragic.  Gorgeous story penned by an author who has magic in her fingertips.

And that magic has once again brought us another wonderful story.

1911, the year of two tragic fires: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the Dreamland Amusement Park in Coney Island.  A year when anything was possible in the new century, even the proliferation of museums offering public viewings of 'freaks'.  Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario of 'The Museum of Extraordinary Things', and where she is a Mermaid in an exhibit, alongside performers like The Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred year-old turtle.  One night, after an evening swim in the Hudson River, Coralie stumbles upon Eddie Cohen, a handsome young man who is photographing moonlit trees in the nearby woods.  While one is a prisoner, the other chose freedom.  

Eddie has run away from his father's Lower East Side Orthodox community.  After taking on jobs of a criminal nature, he meets the man who will fire his love of photography. While photographing the devastation following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes involved in the mystery behind a young woman's disappearance.

It was not hard to get involved in a story that was at once horrific, yet hopeful.  And while I felt nothing but contempt for the callous villains (of which there were many), I felt heartbreak and remorse for the tragic situations of the innocents.  

The feel of the era was plump on every page.  Hoffman has an incredible power of observation and her research once again shines through.  It is an honest story and doesn't spare any details.  The story of Coralie and Eddie skip back and forth, each as hard-hitting as the next.

And, yes, there is magic of a sort.  The magic of love and tenderness in the midst of hard scrabble lives.  There is karma (oh, yes, there IS karma!).  There are second chances.  And there is a lot of heartbreak.

But it was Hoffman's attention to the so-called freaks that grabbed me.  She portrays them in a very real way; they had lives outside the exhibition cages.  They fell in love.  They exploited their differences in order to survive.  But, most of all, they were people.  I was prepared for all she wrote about these most impressive folks; I had seen the Todd Browning film, 'Freaks' long ago.  So while Coralie, a seemingly 'normal' girl, was a prisoner in her own home, the freaks left at the end of the season to lead the real lives they had kept on hiatus, despite the fact that most of them had to keep their appearances hidden to some extent.

Yes, there is magic in Alice Hoffman's fingertips.

I wouldn't expect anything less.  And neither would Molly.

'The Museum of Extraordinary Things' will be published in February 2014 by Scribner.  Book Hog gives this story a big 'thumbs up' for reading groups.

No comments: