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Among the Wonderful: A Novelby Stacy Carlson
Synopses & Reviews
In 1842 Phineas T. Barnum is a young man, freshly arrived in New York and still unknown to the world. With uncanny confidence and impeccable timing, he transforms a dusty natural history museum into a great ark for public imagination. Barnum's museum, with its human wonders and extraordinary live animal menagerie, rises to become not only the nation's most popular attraction, but also a catalyst that ushers America out of a culture of glassed-in exhibits and into the modern age of entertainment.
In this kaleidoscopic setting, the stories of two compelling characters are brought to life. Emile Guillaudeu is the museum's grumpy taxidermist, who is horrified by the chaotic change Barnum brings to his beloved institution. Ana Swift is a professional giantess plagued by chronic pain and jaded by a world of gawkers. The differences between these two are many: one is isolated and spends his working hours making dead things look alive, while the other has people pushing against her, and reacting to her, every day. But they both move toward change, one against his will, propelled by a paradigm shift happening whether he likes it or not, and the other because she is struggling to survive. In many shapes and forms, metamorphosis is at the core of Among the Wonderful. Pursuing this theme, the book weaves a world where upper Manhattan is still untrammeled wilderness, the Five Points is at the height of its bloody glory, and within the walls of Barnum's museum, ancient tribal feuds play out in the midst of an unlikely community of marvels.
"Set against the outlandish arrival of showman P.T. Barnum in 1840s Manhattan, Carlson's bighearted debut follows two employees of Barnum's — a giantess and a taxidermist — as they struggle to break free of their personal and emotional shackles. Ana Swift, eight feet tall and resigned to being a spectacle, moves into the fifth floor of the museum Barnum's bought and slowly learns that wild characters reside both inside and outside of the museum's walls. Meanwhile, Emile Guillaudeu, a taxidermist who has worked at the museum since long before Barnum's arrival, is disturbed by the recent death of his wife and the changes going on at the museum. As each ventures beyond their comfort zones, they find a larger physical and emotional world waiting to challenge them. Carlson beautifully evokes 1840s Manhattan — from the teeming downtown to the wilds of undeveloped northern Manhattan. The acrobats, bearded lady, Australian tribesman, Native Americans, and myriad of bizarre animals offer a constant source of fascination and surprise, and while Carlson rightfully revels in the oddities and curiosities, she also creates emotionally resonant characters who, despite being freakishly tall or joined at the hip, are driven by desires, fears, and that familiar need for human connection. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
P.T. Barnum is a newcomer to New York and still unknown to the world when he purchases an old museum on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street. With uncanny confidence and impeccable timing he transforms the dusty natural history collection into a great ark for public imagination. Though Barnum's bold vision and shameless huckstering are essential to creating his magical, lucrative museum, its inhabitants are Carlson's concern.
To taxidermist Emile Guillaudeu, nature's greatest beauty lies in its rational taxonomy, represented by his meticulous arrangements of mounted specimens. When Barnum takes over the museum, Guillaudeu's attempt to maintain order in an increasingly chaotic microcosm grows more frantic, and ultimately forces him out of the museum and into the unpredictable flux of antebellum New York.
The giantess Ana Swift is plagued by chronic pain and jaded by a world of gawkers, but she is hopeful as she arrives in Barnum's museum. Working without a manager for the first time, she can present herself as she wishes. But does this constitute real freedom? With Ana, the narrative travels beneath the museum's baffling surface to visit the lives of Barnum's human performers, his Representatives of the Wonderful.
In energetic, lyrical prose, Carlson recreates a bygone era with a flair that is captivating and unforgettable. But as always with the finest novels, it is her vivid characters that make this luminous work so arresting and satisfying.
About the Author
Stacy Carlson's work has appeared in In Pieces: An Anthology of Fragmentary Writing, Inkwell, and Lumina. She won the 2003 Dana Portfolio Award, given for three book-length manuscripts, and was awarded residencies at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California and Galleri Svalbard, in Norway. A native of Seattle, she now lives in Oakland, California. www.amongthewonderful.com.
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