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Among the Wonderful: A Novel Paperback – October 2, 2012
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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"The great strength of this book is Carlson's evocation of time and place." -- O, The Oprah Magazine
"Carlson ably exploits this historical milieu, describing the milling crowds in the exhibition halls; the malodorous, dangerous alleyways of the slum called Five Points; the swampy, still-wild edges of Upper Manhattan. . . . [she] writes sensitively, often beautifully, of the desire to be free of the gaze of others, of the misery of serving as a mirror in which others may see themselves." -- New York Times Book Review
Carlson's "portrait of mid-19th-century New York is as finely hatched as any . . . But what draws you in are her two narrators, each fumbling their way toward the rest of humanity, toward what is wonderful about being part of the world." --East Bay Express
"Carlson (sets) her story before the dawn of the modern circus, in the little-explored days when Barnum was a museum man . . . And (Ana) Swift is a most charming narrator with which to explore this world. . . . The great mystery of Wonderful is that Barnum, the flashiest character in the 1800s, doesn't keep center stage. Instead, all our focus, and the entirety of our affection, is directed to the noticeably slouching giantess at the fringes of the action. That's some kind of show-business magic at work." -- The Stranger (Seattle)
"A strange, rollicking often poignant tale." -- San Jose Mercury News
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.
Top customer reviews
Further, the reader comes to understand more of the American personality of the day, and by their interests, their rabid curiosity/entertainment with the quirky exhibits assembled by Barnum. It was not above Barnum to misidentify and/or misname a specie in order to attract ticket-buying crowds, We surely see the man behind the novel's portrait is one whose great passion and talent was manipulating the press.
Beyond the entertainment of "Among the Wonderful" is author Carlson's deep analysis of setting and emotional response, e.g., the following passage describing organized religion and the protagonist's skepticism uses language skillfully to create the frightening power that religion can hold over true believers, but also reveals the cynicism behind the Ana Swift's mask:
(...a church service ...) "was an impenetrable tangle spewed forth by a man made virtually invisible by a voluminous white robe. He perched inside the pulpit like a dove in a cage, emitting bits of an elaborate song: the disciples' sacred ignorance and the so-called Kingdom of God. These words did not move me, except by spurring in me a desire to move away from the church and everyone in it. But I had accepted Beebe's invitation to listen to his choir, and I intended to hear it. I shifted my weight as best I could and ignored the hag in the hat."
Using her awesome talent and great skill with language, Stacy Carlson also captures us with her descriptions of place and time, e.g. in a description of a New York slum, " . . . It was only a minute before the marble buildings gave way to red brick, and the people moving up and down the street faded from the well-heeled Broadway shop owners and businessmen to the drab tones of foundry men, laundry girls, and finally rag pickers. We turned up Mulberry Street, the hooves of our mare clacked dully as the cabbie turned to clay brick."
"Among the Wonderful," the title of Stacy Carlson's novel, could well be a descriptor for her novel, for it is indeed "Among the Wonderful" in her book, the language, the characters, the spell-binding plot. Make this novel next on your reading list. You won't be sorry.
As someone who also writes about the "wonderful" and is fascinated by the relationship between the seer and the seen, not to mention the remarkable world of rogue taxidermy, I loved this book. I read it in waiting rooms, in bed, in between clients, and once it was done I felt inspired by it. Highly recommended.
The Last of the Pascagoula
Determined, hard-driven, and callous Barnum comes off poorly in this novel. While he paid his employees well, he used them shamelessly. Ana, who is one of them, makes the reader appreciate how painful the lot of the Wonderful was. Her sacrifice in the end came as no surprise to me, though it broke my heart.