I didn't get as much reading done this week as I would have liked because we've been super busy. But I did get a chance to read Alice Hoffman's The Museum of Extraordinary Things last weekend while traveling. I admit that I'm a fan of Alice Hoffman's, and this book is the perfect combination of historical fiction, mystery, family drama, and a wee bit of magical realism.
The book's setting is New York City, mainly Manhattan and Coney Island. The bulk of the plot is bookended between two tragedies of historical significance: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the Dreamland Fire on Coney Island. Both tragedies enable the two main characters, Coralie and Eddie, to meet, fall in love, and start over.
Coralie Sardie considers herself a freak of nature because she has webbed hands. Her sociopathic father and owner of Coney Island's Museum of Extraordinary Things grooms her from a very young age to be one of his acts: She's a mermaid with her own tank inside the museum. She trains extensively and seems impervious to the cold waters of the Hudson River. After one of these training sessions when a strong current takes her way off course, she spies Eddie, a young, handsome photographer in the undeveloped forest on the northern side of Manhattan.
Eddie was born Ezekiel Cohen. He and his Orthodox Jewish father escaped the cossacks in the Ukraine and worked their way to the slums of the Lower East Side. A misunderstanding causes Eddie to run away from home and work for the Jewish mystic Abraham Hochman. Eddie becomes adept at finding those who are lost, and when the body of one of the Triangle Fire's victims is never found, Eddie is hired to find the lost girl which leads him to Coralie.
Each chapter begins with either Eddie's POV or Coralie's and then switches to a third omniscient narrator. I normally don't like multiple points of view, but it works well in this novel. The four elements are as much the antagonists as the frightfully drawn human ones are: the historic fires; the Hudson River; the mud and marshes on Manhattan; and the air the seamstresses fall through to their deaths are just a few of the ways Hoffman weaves the elements throughout the story. The characters are all so well drawn, even the secondary ones. There is one villain who is so sinister that he gives me chills just thinking about him. I don't think I've come across one this evil since Mr. Croup in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.
My favorite part of the book is the belief in love at first sight. If you're a sceptic, then Hoffman will convince you otherwise. The plot seemed to slow down a bit, like trudging through the muddy marshes depicted in the story, but these plot points are necessary to understand the whole story. The ending seemed rushed at first, but it ends with the Dreamland Fire, so perhaps it was intended to enhance the frantic mood of the tragedy.
Alice Hoffman's impetus for this novel was the article she wrote for the Los Angeles Times about the anniversary of the Triangle Fire. She includes a hefty bibliography at the end of the novel, and I'd like to read one or two of the books she listed.
*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grab you.
*Add the post url, not your blog url. It's that simple.
"All of the land in the area had once belonged to Clement Moore, the author of The Night Before Christmas, a scholar of Hebrew and Greek who called his estate Chelsea after the district in London known for its opulent Georgian town houses."
from pg. 56, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Did you read anything interesting this week? Please share! This is a linky :D