Monday, February 24, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A NovelThe Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Description: From the beloved, bestselling author of The Dovekeepers, a mesmerizing new novel about the electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.Coney Island: Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a boardwalk freak show that amazes and stimulates the crowds. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man photographing moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as an apprentice tailor. When Eddie captures with his camera the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance.

New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times.The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

My thoughts: I read Alice Hoffman's THE DOVEKEEPER and loved it but I couldn't remember why. While reading THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS I remembered. Her gift is to bring important historical moments to life by mixing fact with fiction in a way that is all consuming. The last book I read by her was about Masada which I knew nothing about before reading the book.

This book captures a time period, a place, a political scene on the verge of change, and adds fictional main characters based on a people at that time. Adding in a few allegories, the story and historical events are beautifully captured. The time is right before WWI. The place is Manhattan and Coney Island. Coney Island was emerging as a place of weird entertainment and some men were unscrupulous to being criminal in the lengths they were willing to go. Mobsters were in the early stages, policemen could be bought, women and children were owned, and factories were sweatshops for cheap labor for new immigrants who would work for pennies. Unions were barely making appearances when a factory employing women caught fire and the women could not escape the smoke and flames because they were locked in.

Eddie, a Russian immigrant records the devastation in vivid detail. On nearby Coney Island, a different kind of trap was set to take advantage and lock the disadvantaged. The Professor was a collector of the extraordinary and malformed. He thought of himself as a scientist but was little more than a con man without a conscience. He lives at his museum with his daughter, Coralie, while training her to be one of his extraordinary in his collection.

The two worlds meet but the reader can also divine a correlation between the two worlds that, at first glance, seem vastly different yet in reality the are much the same. Man claiming ownership of a being of free will. I particularly liked the side story of the animals that are meant for the wild. In particular, the wolf. They are allegories for the bigger story. Hoffman paints a powerful story with her words and cleverly timed story.

A side note: One extraordinary creature, the wolfman, is a gentleman who happens to be covered in hair. He is well read and well bred. He introduces a new perspective about Jane Eyre which happens to be my favorite book. I loved the plain yet indomitable spirit of Jane. She lives a miserable life but she is about to be snatched out of misery and marry Mr. Rochester but it doesn't work out. She almost starves and is miserable again. In the end, no man makes her happy or saves her. She saves herself.

BUT - there is a peripheral character that changes the story of Jane's happily ever after; Mrs. Rochester. What about her perspective? Mr. Morris and Coralie bring a brand new insight to the book and the idea of entrapment. Read this book and you'll see what I'm talking about. Fantastic.

View all my reviews

1 comment:

Kim said...

I know I'd like this one! I like that period in history - when America became great and powerful with the industrial revolution, and millions of immigrants found a new home in our country.