Title/Author: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Read by: Judith Light, Grace Gummer and Zack Appelman.
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio.
Synopsis: Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father's museum; alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.
The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father's Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor's apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman's disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie. ~Goodreads.com
Midnyte Musings: I haven't read an Alice Hoffman book in a very long time. I felt a lot of her plots were getting too similar, but I decided to pick up this one because I love the magic and themes of Coney Island. Freak shows, amusement parks and summertime fun.
Although The Museum of Extraordinary Things didn't have as much supernatural elements as I thought and hoped it would have, I still found the story and characters compelling. Eddie has turned his back on his father and his religion, basically his old life over perceptions he has about them and finds photography. Since photography has been one of my biggest hobbies for many years, I loved the scenes that included Eddie as a learning photographer and then as a photojournalist. Every photographer has their own philosophy of what it is to take a picture, to capture time. I also loved hearing about the cameras themselves and the photographic process of that time period.
Cora is the other protagonist and lives with her father above his Museum. Cora herself is one of the attractions in the show, a living mermaid. Her gift is her swimming abilities helped along by webs between her fingers. Since she was small she has trained in the waters near Brooklyn and down the Hudson River. Her father is continually trying to make money for his floundering museum by presenting more and more shocking "freaks." Cora, already a bit frightened of her overprotective and demanding father eventually finds out things about him that horrify her. She longs to get away.
Eddie and Cora's paths cross eventually and they attempt to make a new chapter in both of their lives. However, they have to overcome several obstacles and I did not take for granted that they would have an HEA.
There are two elements which really made this book for me. The symbolism and the history. There is symbolism in the fires that occur in Eddie's life and each one ushers in a new phase of his life pushing him in a new direction and transforming his life. Also, water is very symbolic. Cora feels most alive in the water and the Hudson River not only plays an important part in both Cora and Eddie's life, but it also brings them together for the first time. What I also loved was the hidden meanings of Eddie's stolen watch. For such a small object it is so important in what it represents that it is almost a character in itself. It represents the people who oppressed workers at the turn of the 20th Century and the life that Eddie longs for. Yet at the same time, it is a symbol for the kind of people he despises. A reminder of part of his life. It is his treasure and his burden.
I enjoyed reading about New York City during that time period and about the events that accompanied it. Immigrants, businesses, social classes, and the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the impact it had on workers.
There are a lot of hidden secrets in this book that are sometimes uncovered and sometimes kept me guessing and a lot of hidden meaning that comes to the surface just like things thrown in a river or ocean sometimes do as well.
Narration: The narration was done very well. Because it's told in three points of view there were three narrators. One for Eddie, one for Cora and one for an omniscient narrator that didn't have a very large part. This helped separate the book for me and I thought the voices were perfect for their characters.
An interesting look at a piece of New York City history seen through the eyes of compelling characters in unique situations.