Thursday, March 27, 2014

Extraordinary Things From Hoffman

Museum Of Extraordinary Things
With throngs of thugs and bootleggers and businessmen and idealists, New York City was a wonderment at the turn of the century and its playground was Coney Island. It was there, an island made increasingly more accessible by steam railroads and later subways, that all of New York turned out to have good time.

The best part was its location. Coney Island was just close enough to be convenient but just far enough away to be called a vacation.

Of course, not everyone saw it that way. For one young girl who would go mostly unnoticed during the off season but always attract crowds of curious onlookers during the on season, the wild and lively heart of this island was something else. It was her prison.

Coralie Sardie was a mermaid. And she wasn't just any mermaid but the daughter of the sinister impresario behind the Museum of Extraordinary Things, a freak show filled with artifacts and performers intended to thrill the masses — the wolfman, the butterfly girl, and the mermaid.

The Museum Of Extraordinary Things takes a toll on ordinary lives. 

The novel is a great escape of sorts, but not just for its readers. It is an escape by two very different protagonists in an emergent New York City that is both stunning and strangling to the unprepared.

The first of them is Coralie. Shortly after she was born with some extra webbing between her fingers, her father began the long and arduous exercise of training her to hold her breath for long periods of time, withstand cold water, and swim like a fish.

When combined with proper stage makeup, lighting, and the benefit of a tail, she was nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. So it was there, for hours and hours every day, Coralie would live in a tank of cold water, surfacing just ever so slightly to grab a breath of air from a small hidden hose.

The other protagonist, Eddie Cohen, is also trapped but in a much different way. He is the son of a Russian immigrant and expected to become a tailor's apprentice in a Lower East Side Orthodox community.

Even after he runs away to become a professional photographer, he still sees himself as somehow permanently linked to his past. The psychological confinement of who he is, or who he was, is as real as the psychical one that Coralie must endure.

All of this begins to change when Eddie photographs the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. As he is sucked into the suspicious disappearance of a young woman, he is eventually led to a chance encounter with Coralie as a young woman as opposed to a mermaid. When they meet, both of them come to represent the allure of a fresh start far away from their dubious and demanding roles.

A couple of graphs about author Alice Hoffman.

Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman was born in New York City in 1952 and grew up on Long Island. Later she would attend Adelphi University and receive a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center. Her first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of 21.

Since then, she has become a distinguished novelist, writing both adult novels and books for young adults. Despite the age of one protagonist, the Museum Of Extraordinary Things best fits in the former category. Its strengths lies in the historic details (but not always the vividness of New York) and well-defined characters who attempt to find their place in the world.

The Museum Of Extraordinary Things By Alice Hoffman Sneaks 5.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although her characters spend much of the novel trying to discover where they fit in the world, it is almost uncanny at times how sure they are of who they themselves are. There are some challenges in her storytelling, especially any time she retells old material with new details as the book progress.

Fans will mostly find what they are looking for in Hoffman's latest novel, elements of quirkiness and mystery exist even if some of the details drown out the best of it. You can find The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel by Alice Hoffman on Amazon, where readers give it 4.5 stars. The Museum Of Extraordinary Things received 4 stars on iBooks. The audiobook, read by Judith Light, Grace Gummer, and Zach Appelman can be found on iTunes whereas a hard copy can be ordered from Barnes & Noble.
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