Like the museum of its title, Hoffman’s (The Dovekeepers) latest novel is a collection of curiosities, each fascinating in its own right, but haphazardly connected as a whole. New York City in 1911 is caught between its future and its past: the last woods are threatened by sidewalks; sweatshops and child labor abuses give rise to a cruel division between rich and poor. Coralie Sardie’s father runs Coney Island’s Museum of Extraordinary Things, a sideshow exhibit of pickled and preserved wonders, as well as living freaks; Coralie’s own webbed hands lead her father to train her as a swimmer, billing her as “the Human Mermaid.” But Professor Sardie’s museum is threatened by the city’s changing tastes, and he becomes increasingly sinister in his control of Coralie and his plans for the museum’s future. In a parallel, hopscotching storyline, Eddie Cohen, a Russian Orthodox Jewish immigrant, abandons his father and his community and becomes a photographer, finding his purpose in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the search for one of its victims. Though both stories have Hoffman’s trademark magical realism and hold great potential, their connection is tenuous—literally and thematically—and their complexities leave them incompletely explored. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/18/2013 Release date: 02/18/2014 Genre: Fiction
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