‘Strordinary


I’m beginning to see a theme with my last batch of library books: first it was “Creatures of Will and Temper” a turn-of-the-century story about a cult of demon aficionados, then it was “The Shape of Water” a book about a woman who falls in love with a magical water creature , and now “The Museum of Extraordinary Things”: a turn-of-the-century story about a woman who plays the role of a magical water creature and the man who falls in love with her. If the next book turns out to be about a demon possesed mermaid then I’ll know I’ve made it full circle.

“The Museum of Extraordinary Things” is, as the title suggests, a story revolving around a Coney Island museum of oddities- not a sideshow, the narrator insists, but then again, as one of the oddities herself. Born with webbed fingers and trained to hold her breath for an inhumanly long time she is styled as a mermaid, and is occasionally glimpsed swimming in the river as a mysterious Hudson Creature to draw customers, siren-like to her father’s museum.

I liked the premise. I didn’t love the execution. The story shuttles back and forth between the two main characters: Coralie, the water girl, and Ezekiel/Eddie a photographer and finder of missing persons. And this would be fine, except that it also shuttles back and forth between first person and third person narrative styles. For both characters. So in one chapter Coralie describes her self and her life in first person, in the next, we are punted into third person to follow her story from arm’s length. Then we get a first person view of Eddie’s life, followed by a chapter of trailing along behind him in third person.

Rinse. Repeat.

I could see how this might have been a useful device for highlighting the spectator/exhibit nature of Coralie’s life, or the observer/subject theme surrounding Eddie- who is also a photographer. Maybe this was the intent, but there wasn’t quite enough of a difference in the content between the two points of view to really set the two apart. The interior world of the first person chapters were not *quite* subjective enough to offer deep behind-the-scenes insight into the characters and their private philosophies. The third person chapters were not *quite* objective enough to give the audience information about the wider world that we couldn’t have gotten from the character themself. As a result, it just made for an uneven read that required a lot of extra re-orientation every chapter for a reader like me to figure out where the story had come from and where it was going. And it prevented me from really investing in either character in any meaningful way.

So, I didn’t hate it, but I never need to read it again. If you like stories about turn of the century Coney Island, there was quite a lot of good world building to set the historical milieu, which I liked. A valiant effort that just failed to connect.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on May 9, 2018.

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