I picked up The Museum of Extraordinary Things at the bookstore.
I hadn’t heard of it nor had I read anything about the author, Alice Hoffman. What a surprise when I saw she’s written over 20 books. Being that I was ignorant of the author, I didn’t know what to expect.
There isn’t much dialogue in this book. I’m used to lots of dialogue. I floundered for a while, getting my footing, trying to adjust to this different style, but I needn’t have worried because it didn’t take long until I slipped into the story of Carolie. She is one of the narrators and we walk through her eyes as a child and on through until she is a young woman. She lives at the Museum of Extraordinary Things in Coney Island in the early 1900s. This was when New York City still had natural places where the Hudson river lapped up against an unmolested shoreline. A time when progress leaped forward into what must have felt like a frightening and exciting future.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a place of mystery. A place where curiosities of nature, both living and dead, are housed for the summertime enjoyment of the masses escaping the heat of New York City. [I can’t imagine living in New York city without air conditioning.]
Maureen works at Carolie’s home which is connected to the museum. She is the mother Carolie never had, for her father, Professor Sardie, has told Carolie that her mother died. Maureen is scarred on the face from an acid attack. We are told a lover marred her beautiful face in a fit of jealous rage. She is the only love that Carolie experiences as a child. Her father has no interest in her except to train her to swim and hold her breath. Odd things for a parent to teach a child, but Carolie was born with a deformity. Her fingers are webbed, and upon her twelve birthday we learn why he has trained her so.
Ezekiel, along with his father, escaped Ukraine after his mother was killed by Cossacks. Ezekiel doesn’t understand why they fled, leaving the charred remains of his mother, doesn’t understand why his father withdraws into himself, and as the story progresses he doesn’t understand the way his father clings to his Jewish faith.
Ezekiel becomes something of a street urchin and works for a man who purports to have a psychic ability to find people. What he has is a network of boys like Ezekiel who do the legwork. He grows until a tall and gangly youth who happens upon a photographer one day. He’s destiny is sealed upon seeing the images and he drops everything in his life to become a photographer.
Here I must stop with my description of the story. To go further would be to give too much away. I was very taken with this tale. There were times when I feared to turn the page for what would happen to Carolie at the hands of her obsessed father. My imagination ran wild with scenarios and was far more gruesome than the words on the page, thank goodness.
There is a lot of history in this story mingled in with the fiction. As a lover of history I enjoyed that very much. Mystery abounds and some romance.
Next time I’m haunting the book store aisles I will look for Alice Hoffman’s name upon the spines.