Coming of age, Family dynamics, Fiction, Finding Your Self, Historical Fiction, Hoffman-Alice, Romantic Fiction, Social Commentary

#548 The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice HoffmanThe Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Life can seem awfully cruel at times. For a girl named Coralie’s life has left her motherless and with a deformity. Coralie’s fingers have a webbing between them. It’s just skin, it could be easily gotten rid of, but Coralie’s father won’t’ let her. He teaches her to swim. He teaches her to run. He lets her read many books.

Coralie’s father owns a small attraction. It’s called the Museum of Extraordinary Things. There are all kinds of interesting things there. There are jars preserved with all types of specimens. There is an ancient tortoise. There was a two-headed goat. There are various tropical birds. In the on-season, there are also performers. They come and go.

At one point, Coralie becomes a performer. Her father had not allowed her in the museum until she was twelve years old. When she was twelve, she joined the ranks of the performers. Her father built a big tank in the museum, where Coralie pretended to be a mermaid. Her skin was dyed blue and the webbing between her fingers was the main draw.

As her father intended to create another attraction, Coralie’s life changed. She had to swim the Hudson River to be a river monster. It was after one of these swims that she spied a man named Eddie and her life would never be the same. Eddie was a photographer, also telling his own story. He left his father to fend for himself. Eddie also left behind his religion. Eddie came to know the dirty and dark secrets of the city. He had recently photographed the ruin of the Triangle Fire, an entire factory of girls had been burned up. The doors had been locked. Eddie gets embroiled in the mystery of a missing girl and so too does Coralie, for Coralie is the one who finds her, but the girl’s story does not end there.

Coralie’s life seems to tailspin into something that it never was before. Her father becomes obsessed with his river monster. Coralie realizes what it is to care for a man. In the end, she comes to realize that her life up until this point has not always been what people said it was. Yes, there were extraordinary things in the Museum of Extraordinary Things, Coralie had been one of them, but she can go on being extraordinary in her own life.

What I liked

There was actually a lot of history in this book. The Triangle Fire was a real thing and so was the Wizard mentioned in the story. He wasn’t a real wizard, people just called him that. The Triangle Fire’s hundredth anniversary was in 2011. Girls had been locked in the factory. They jumped out of windows from the 8th and 9th floors, hoping to escape the flames. All they found was death. There were forty bodies, or so, on the sidewalk by the time it had all ended. The aftermath of this fire helped in bringing forth different working conditions for people in factories.

I think I had heard about the Triangle Fire before, but I hadn’t known this much about it. I’m glad I was able to learn a bit more about history from this book. Alice takes her time to put real life into her books and I appreciate that.

Coralie was also an interesting character. She thought she knew what her life was, but things changed that. Life became something different for her. She had been ashamed of herself but learned not to be.

What I didn’t like

Despite all the great history, this story seems to lull a bit. There is action. Things do happen, but they’re not overly grand things. The action, when it happens, just seems a little slow. Action in a story doesn’t have to be fast and hard, but, I don’t know, this story kind of drifts rather than speeds.

The book did get quite interesting though and I enjoyed reading it.

In some ways, I feel like the characters are a bit stereotyped. We have a mad scientist who. We have a to be pitied woman. We have a girl who doesn’t know who she is. We have a man who forsook his religious life for worldly living. These characters all exist and have existed for a long time. The story is still interesting, but with expected things.

Overall

I’m glad I work at a place that doesn’t lock the doors.

Weigh In

Do you think Coralie is brave for accepting herself as she is?

Do you think Coralie’s father was without compassion for Coralie?

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