Friday, September 19, 2014

Alice's Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: None
Publication Date: February 18, 2014
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 368
Obtained: Publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  4/5
Bottom Line: An alluring story of  mystery and love.
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!

Summary:  Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.  Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. 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 taking pictures of 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 a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie. With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark 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 Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

Review:  Alice Hoffman...I don’t even know where to begin. She is one of my favorite authors ever. She can write about nearly any subject with authority and heart. I love her books. Love them. This one is no different. I love that it’s set in New York City. I just adore when a city is a character in a novel. Make is New York City in 1911 and it’s even better. I love that she ventures into Brooklyn and writes about the freak shows and oddities on Coney Island. It was such a marvelous, fascinating time in history.

Like most others, I am drawn to a novel that is close to home. I work a few blocks from Eddie’s apartment in the novel. I love knowing we walked down the same streets in much different times. I really appreciated that she encompassed real events into her storytelling. I first learned about the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on a ghost walk tour last year. My interest in The Museum of Extraordinary Things was immediately piqued when I learned the novel began with that catastrophe. I love that she writes in a way that makes me feel as if I am there, standing on the sidewalk next to Eddie in horror at the burning building in front of me. Or that it is me, and not Coralie who is swimming in the frigid Hudson. She has the ability to transport her readers to a different place and time. See, that’s the thing about Alice Hoffman. She writes in a way that Eddie and Coralie are not characters in a novel. They are people who lived a long time ago, as human as I am.

Eddie was such a great character. With everything he faced, he grew up a lot faster than he should have. There was no boyhood innocence to draw from. He lost is even before he stepped into his life in Manhattan. And Coralie, the opposite of him, sheltered and protected to a fault. First she forced to act like a child when she craved the things of a woman, and then forced into wanton behavior by someone who should have protected her. I enjoyed their love story. I especially enjoyed that their love story wasn’t the focus of the novel. This novel was much more than two people coming together.

There were a few other characters that I enjoyed, especially Maureen. As Coralie’s companion and Dr. Sardie’s housemaid, she had a small but significant role. I loved that she was scarred yet had wisdom and desires. She had a way of centering Coralie and the novel. It was her happy ending I hoped for the most.

Ms. Hoffman is still very much on her game, but there was something nagging me while reading this. Something was missing. I can’t quite explain what it is but I can tell you that it simply wasn’t there. The more that I think about it, I realize the novel lacked the usual magic she folds into her stories. It’s that little thing that makes her novels different. Even with that lack of magic, this was quite a tale.



Anonymous ,  September 22, 2014 at 11:19 AM  

I love Hoffman when she's on her game, but some of her novels are a miss for me. This one looks like a winner, even without the magic.

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