Monday, August 1, 2011

Among the Wonderful by Stacy Carlson

In 1842 New York City, P.T. Barnum opened his American Museum. It was part zoo, part freak show, part natural history museum, part theater, part restaurant, part… you get the picture. Among the Wonderful imagines the lives of two of its employees – Ana Swift, Giantess, and Emile Guillaudeu, Taxidermist. They are very different people, holding very different places in the Museum, but both are searching for their place in the world. I was impressed that that search never becomes a cliché and that the Museum never turns into a catalog of freaks.
I loved this book. I was completely captivated by the two main characters, the Museum, and all the strange and wonderful people involved in it. The only thing I wished for at the end was a companion book full of the real details about the Museum so that I would have known right away how well-researched the story was. Not surprisingly, the truth is even stranger than this great historical fiction.

The Call by Yannick Murphy

I loved Yannick Murphy’s novel, Signed Mata Hari, so much that I picked up The Call without any idea what it was about. It’s very different, but equally wonderful. The “narrator” is a rural veterinarian going through life’s trials with his wife and three kids. He ponders life, his son is injured, his own health is questionable, his wife is a little frustrated, and there are lights in the sky above his house. But his story is not told in traditional paragraphs, rather as a sort of list of prompts and answers (alternate title could have been An Ode to the Colon). Here’s the opening as an example:
     “Call: A cow with her dead calf half-born.
     Action: Put on boots and pulled dead calf out while standing in a field of mud.”
Call, Action, What the Wife Made for Dinner, and What the Children Say, are repeated often, but there’s also What the Spaceman Said and What the House Says at Night, among many others. Murphy is a strange and different writer in the best possible way. It’s amazing that she manages to tell such a complete and fascinating story in this strange style. I loved this book. It will be on my top ten for the year. Take a risk – it’s in softcover!