Friday, August 26, 2011

Among the Wonderful - Book Review

In 1842, Phineas T. Barnum purchased the Scudder Natural History Museum in New York City with plans to make it into a showcase of the world's wonders. Filling the building with treasures and curiosities in order to fascinate and marvel the general population becomes his passion.

Ana Swift, the world's only giantess, moves into the apartments on the 5th floor of the museum as one of Barnum's employees. Her job is simply to walk among the visiting crowds each day in the museum.

Guillaudeu is the aging taxidermist who has spent his career in Scudder's museum and balks at the transformation of the museum under the new ownership.

Stacy Carlson's new novel Among the Wonderful  is the story of Barnum's museum, the curiosities and the people who work and live inside it's walls. With gracious and fine writing, Carlson opens up and displays Barnum's spiraling and mysterious museum with it's hidden galleries and human treasures. While the people who inhabit it are what the world called "freaks" and Barnum called "wonders", a hirsute woman, Siamese twins, albinos, natives, dwarfs, and giants, Carlson writes of them with a profound human touch, turning the reader from the voyeuristic tourist to the sympathetic and accepting soul.

The characters are richly developed and vastly different from the stereotypes that inhabit most stories about carnivals, fairs and circuses. Ana, the giantess, is so lovingly portrayed in all her heartache, hope and pain that she will be a literary character I will not soon forget. Guillaudeau, too, is a timeless character dealing with the very universal human emotions of aging, loss and dealing with change. His own metamorphosis is interesting to watch even as he bemoans the vast and sweeping changes in the museum.

With skill and style, Carlson takes a foot note of history and works it into a lovely and sweeping novel. Carlson excells as a story teller but proves herself, even more, as a compassionate and thoughtful observer of the human condition.
I received a complimentary copy of Among the Wonderful through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.

1 comment:

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