“From the time I began my career at the museum, my father told me I was a wonder of the world. Yet when I held up my hand mirror to study my face, it did not seem wondrous to me. My features- gray eyes, black eyebrows, high cheekbones, pale complexion- added up to a plain person, a simple individual no one would look at twice. I considered myself to be nothing special, a dull creature who could not compare to those God had made to be unique in all the world, for the living wonders my father employed were as marvelous as they were strange.”
There is something about the circus that displays the strange and unbelievable that grabs a person’s imagination. As a child it’s the wonder that such things exist and as an adult it’s a chuckle at the creativity behind the display and maybe even a slight appreciation for a well created trick for the eye. I had high expectations for Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things and while it may not have been what I expected, it was still a very enjoyable read nonetheless.
Coralie has grown up with people that the rest of society deems “freaks” but to her they are friends, family and individuals with beautiful thoughts and intentions no matter how different the shells they live in may be. Her father employs these people at his museum where he displays the strange and frightening, a mad but ingenious scientist who is always dreaming up the next oddity he can create. He even places his daughter in a tank, her webbed fingers and toes making her a mermaid worth displaying. Eddie has run from his only remaining family member, forsaken his Jewish community and lost hold of who he is, all the decisions he made in his youth haunt him every day in one manner or another. But Eddie has a gift and is able to find things and people lost to the whirlwind of life, his only saving grace as far as he is concerned. Random events will bring these two old souls together amidst the noise and metropolis of a blooming New York City and redefine what is strange and what is fate.
Hoffman is one of those authors that I truly respect and look forward to new releases from. She has a fantastic writing style and very few people can match her when it comes to telling a story with finesse. And from the books I have read by Hoffman, she often chooses to tell stories that are intriguing and by taking an angle that might not be expected by her readers.
One of the highlights of reading Hoffman is the intricacy of her characters and The Museum of Extraordinary Things does not disappoint on this front. Coralie is the strong, intelligent lead female character that I wish I would see more often in novels, a woman under the thumb of a controlling father and who lives with a visible peculiarity but who grows to know the value of her own self-worth. Maureen, the housekeeper and mother figure for Coralie and who also has a disfigurement, is a second admirable female character that provides guidance and acceptance. Eddie has countless layers of development; the rejection of his father and religion, his youth as a thug, a return to the beauty of nature, and a desire to find the perfect moment from behind the lens of his camera. Perhaps the most surprising ideology weaved into the story by Hoffman is that the museum’s human displays, the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, all of them, are still humans and seek the same things that their more perfect counterparts do. All of these characters exist against the background of Coney Island in a time when the entire world was changing and people struggled to find their place in it, no matter their outward appearance.
While a small part of me would have loved to see a bit more about the different acts and people of the circus-like museum, The Museum of Extraordinary Things is still a wonderful story of life, love, hope and urges the reader to revaluate their definition of extraordinary. For those who enjoy Hoffman and her literary passion for telling a consuming story, this is a must read.
Devon – a1000booklife
Other books by Hoffman: The Ice Queen (2006), Green Angel (2010), The Dovekeepers (2011), The Red Garden (2011), Green Heart (2012) and many others