Monday, August 08, 2011


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

The theme of the moment seems to be the circus life.  Not long ago, we had THE TRANSFORMATION OF BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO.  Recently, there has been THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB and the upcoming NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern.  Stacy Carlson's brings us inside the walls of P.T. Barnum's museum with AMONG THE WONDERFUL.

AMONG THE WONDERFUL follows the lives of two of Barnum's employees, a taxidermist named Emile Guillaudeu left over from the Scudder museum who is having difficulty adapting to his new life under Barnum and a professional giantess named Ana Swift.  Guillaudeu was proud of his role as taxidermist inside of the venerable Scudder Museum of Natural History. When Scudder sells the museum to Barnum and Barnum begins to displace science in the name of entertainment, Emile begins to question his role within the museum.  One of the entertainers is Ana.  Ana is a professional giantess who claims to be the only giantess in the world.  She is plagued by chronic pain and has become jaded and lonely after a life on the road.  Both Emile and Ana are seeking something more.  The two of them struggle separately to figure out how their lives are going to evolve against the backdrop of Barnum's unusual museum.

I think Carlson came up with a wonderful character in Ana Swift.  She is sad and complex and frustrating.  One moment the reader feels sympathy for her and the next the reader wants to shake her in her misanthropy.  I think her story is the most compelling.  Emile provides an interesting contrast as he is the victim of the paradigm shift between a museum of knowledge and preservation and one of entertainment.  While Emile's struggles are interesting, his story is not nearly as compelling as Ana's and the story seems to drag every time he shows up. I think Carlson succeeded in creating a multi-layered story where Bryson's BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO failed.  Bryson's book focused more on the sensational while Carlson makes a real attempt at getting inside the characters' heads and showing the dystopia within Barnum's walls.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  An interesting look inside the flawed world of Barnum's museum.  The story is very very slow in the chapters focusing on Emile's story but his story is necessary to provide a contrast to Ana's.  If you can get past the "stop and start" quality of the book, you will find some interesting perspective on the evolution of two people within a very unusual context.

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