The Museum of Extraordinary Things (Hoffman)

I’m a sucker for stories that involve circuses, carnivals, sideshows, etc.. Maybe in another life I would have run away with the circus. So even though I was not blown away by The Dovekeepers, I decided to give Alice Hoffman’s newest one a chance; I’m so glad I did.

This is a wonderfully constructed book. The parallels evolve subtly and meaningfully. She evokes the atmosphere of early 20th century Coney Island incredibly well. I opened the book, and I was there. The writing is exquisite. One character is said to have “a thorn of compassion” before offering to help someone. What a great phrase and absolutely perfect for that moment and that character. Beautiful and important images of water are interspersed throughout the novel, and even a word like “brother” takes on such nuanced meaning.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire has an important role in the novel, but to her credit, the novel is not about that. The characters become involved with it, but Hoffman is willing to let some of the questions remain unresolved. On the other hand, the novel is, somewhat, about the fire and the issues that it raised – unions, social classes, immigrants, changes in New York, etc.. It becomes a great set piece, but does not dominate the proceedings.

Hoffman’s ending is evocative and well-earned. Hoffman’s orchestration of things both small and large is masterful.


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