- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (May 1, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374158371
- ISBN-13: 978-0374158378
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 37 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts Hardcover – May 1, 2018
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An Amazon Best Book of May 2018: We all have things that we’re afraid of, from the mundane (spiders) to the profound (boasts about the size of one’s nuclear buttons). Tessa Fontaine’s greatest fear was losing her mother — and after suffering a series of debilitating strokes, this was imminently becoming a reality. Despite her precarious health, Fontaine’s mom decided to defer a dream no longer and tour Italy with her husband — a courageous, if not medically advised, adventure. It was also just the cue her daughter needed to cross off a bucket list item of her own: Join the circus. Like any other job, a certain skill set is required, one that Fontaine (not so convincingly) espoused. But she was a quick study, and over the course of a season with the World of Wonders, the last touring sideshow in America, she learned to eat fire, charm snakes, become a human flashlight, and fit in with her sideshow family (perhaps the biggest feat of all). Turns out, there isn’t much smoke and mirrors involved; to perform these death defying acts, you must “un-train your instincts, unlearn self-preservation.” You have to, essentially, make peace with pain. That also happens to be one of the keys to living a full life and the overarching message of this unique and moving memoir: If you don’t face your fears and open yourself up to heartache, you’re closing yourself off from the best life has to offer. The Electric Woman is a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at carnival life and an ode to unconditional love. --Erin Kodicek, Amazon Book Review
A New York Times Editors' Choice, An Amazon Editors' Top 100 of 2018; An Amazon Best Memoir/Biography of 2018; A Refinery29 Best Book of 2018; A BBC Book to Read in May, A Patch Book You Need To Read in May, A San Francisco Magazine Memoir to Read Right Now, The Interrobang Summer Reading Pick
"An assured debut that doesn’t shy away from the task of holding the ordinary and otherworldly in its hand, at once. It’s herein that the book’s power lies . . . Throughout this narrative is the story of [Fontaine's] relationship with her mother, a story that is sometimes its own hard-to-watch sideshow act. Fontaine is unafraid to write the ugliness ― the imperfect care and love ― that takes place between people, and the memoir is most 'electric' when it doesn’t shy from that imperfection . . ." ―Rachel Khong, The New York Times Book Review
"While caring for her mother following a stroke, Tessa Fontaine became enchanted by the world of the carnival sideshow, learning to charm snakes, swallow swords, and escape handcuffs. What Fontaine finds, as she recounts in her fascinating memoir, The Electric Woman (FSG), is that there's no trick to overcoming one's deepest fears." ―Vogue
"This is a fascinating, moving memoir about growing up and facing loss, and it also serves as a look behind the scenes at the circus." ―BookPage
"This is the story of a daughter and her mother. It’s also a memoir, a love story, and a tale of high-flying stunts. It recounts an adventure toward and through fear as Tessa Fontaine performs as an escape artist, fire-eater, and snake charmer with the World of Wonders, a traveling sideshow." ―Southern Living
"Astounding, amazing, inspiring and a little bit terrifying . . . Fontaine’s circus adventures are nicely juxtaposed against her mother’s long journey of recovery, as both women learn to overcome their fears and meet life’s challenges." ―Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Marvellous . . . [Fontaine's] account of her coming-of-age summer on the road is filled with small miracles." ―BBC
"Vivid and hallucinatory, joyful and disturbing―one of the most creative memoirs I’ve encountered." ―Susannah Cahalan, The New York Post
"Chronicles of Fontaine’s frequently strange experiences with the carnival are interspersed with poignant reflections on the bonds shared by mother and daughter." ―San Francisco Chronicle
"The Electric Woman is a story of loss, love and acceptance, of learning to overcome one's fears and insecurities and of letting go of what was in order to accept what is. She shows readers how to live each day to the fullest despite obstacles―or perhaps, because of them." ―Shelf Awareness
"If you've ever dreamed of running away to join the circus, this is the book you need to read." ―Patch
"Honest and emotionally vulnerable . . . In this memoir that seamlessly balances grief, loss and wild-eyed determination, Fontaine makes a compelling case for using fear as an unexpected gift."
"A fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at carnival life, and an ode to unconditional love." ―Erin Kodicek, Omnivoracious
"Fascinating . . . This remarkable, beautifully written memoir explores the depth of mother-daughter love and the courageous acts of overcoming fear and accepting change."
―Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Fascinating and heartfelt, Fontaine’s memoir brushes with death but, more important, finds life and light in unexpected places, giving value to otherness in an unpredictable world." ―Booklist
"Fontaine smashes together two distinct memoirs, one focused on grieving her mother’s prolonged illness and death, the other her unlikely, brave’n’crazy season as a small-time carnival performer . . . As exciting as the snake handling, card tricks, and “secret rituals” of the carnival’s insides are, it is the grinding journey of mom-grief that will resonate with readers . . . Take a walk on the wild side, why dontcha?"
“In a word: wow. I read The Electric Woman in a hallucinatory fever filled with hospital beds and carnival rides, gray eyes and biting boa constrictors, brain bleeds and headless bodies, fire eaters and electrified women. Tessa Fontaine is a real-life snake charmer―her writing hooked and hypnotized me from page one. I had to read just one more chapter, just one more until I reached the end of her extraordinary memoir, dismayed that it was over but so grateful for the unforgettable ride.”
―Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire
“Somewhere between knives and fire beats the heart of a young woman daring herself to live. In her memoir, The Electric Woman, Tessa Fontaine weaves her way through a mother-death story and a daughter-coming-alive story against the backdrop of America’s last traveling sideshow. There are so many ways to bring ourselves back to life. So many people along the way who become our secular guardian angels. This story is a breathtaking, fire-eating, heart-stopping, death-defying thrill.”
―Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Book of Joan
“This is a memoir like no other. One in which reinvention means starting out as a heartbroken girl and becoming a fire eater, a snake charmer, an escape artist, an electric woman. These are not metaphors, and yet again they are: expertly developed, sustained, and revealed in intensifying and sometimes terrifying complexity, as Tessa Fontaine enters, embraces, and finally allows herself to be transformed by the carnival’s World of Wonders and the unforgettable cast of characters who calls the sideshow home.”
―Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
“Yes, I have done it. I have run away to the circus, a realm of wonder, harsh reality, and colorful characters, vividly described by a remarkable writer who pulls off her own high-wire act with honesty and abandon, moving from loss to delight. In The Electric Woman, Tessa Fontaine is an escape artist determined to detonate the grim reality of mere existence, taking us on the most original journey I can remember in a recent memoir. As she moves through guises and adventures, she learns how to become the woman her mother loves and the person she didn’t think she could be: her own marvelous self.”
―George Hodgman, author of Bettyville
“A beautiful and ferocious book, The Electric Woman comes packed with magnificent stories of carnival tricks, transcending the limits of the body, and the bravery of survivors and caretakers. Yet, somehow no marvel is more wondrous than the writing itself. Fontaine's memoir is a brilliant testament to family, grief, love, and the astonishing trick of being―and feeling―alive.”
―Annie Hartnett, author of Rabbit Cake
“The Electric Woman is a love story, a coming-of-age, a brilliant exploration of discovery by a young woman ultimately set free by the flames of fire.”
―Leslie Zemeckis, author of Goddess of Love Incarnate
“With fearless grace and piercing intensity, Tessa Fontaine juxtaposes the thrill of eating fire with the luminous mystery of her mother’s devastating strokes and harrowing transformations. I have never read a book more tender or more true. We all live in a World of Wonders, a world of terror. The Electric Woman delivers us to the potent mercy of unmitigated love, the passion of shared suffering, the resilience of the spirit, and the ecstasies of our transfigurations. The heart breaks, and breaks open―in the divine light of despair, we discover radiant joy: the hidden holiness of every breath, every being, every moment.”
―Melanie Rae Thon, author of Sweet Hearts
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This list barely hints at all the wonders in this book about a dying world, the world of freaks and outsiders who become a family of sorts through a shared life. That the author seamlessly weaves this narrative in with the story of her mother is also admirable. This is Ms. Fontaine’s first book. She’s in a Ph. D. program in writing now. I can’t imagine what she’ll be like with a few more decades of writing under her belt! But for now, she’s the Real Thing.