cover image Among the Wonderful

Among the Wonderful

Stacy Carlson. Steerforth, $24.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-58642-184-7

Set against the outlandish arrival of showman P.T. Barnum in 1840s Manhattan, Carlson's bighearted debut follows two employees of Barnum's%E2%80%94a giantess and a taxidermist%E2%80%94as they struggle to break free of their personal and emotional shackles. Ana Swift, eight feet tall and resigned to being a spectacle, moves into the fifth floor of the museum Barnum's bought and slowly learns that wild characters reside both inside and outside of the museum's walls. Meanwhile, Emile Guillaudeu, a taxidermist who has worked at the museum since long before Barnum's arrival, is disturbed by the recent death of his wife and the changes going on at the museum. As each ventures beyond their comfort zones, they find a larger physical and emotional world waiting to challenge them. Carlson beautifully evokes 1840s Manhattan%E2%80%94from the teeming downtown to the wilds of undeveloped northern Manhattan. The acrobats, bearded lady, Australian tribesman, Native Americans, and myriad of bizarre animals offer a constant source of fascination and surprise, and while Carlson rightfully revels in the oddities and curiosities, she also creates emotionally resonant characters who, despite being freakishly tall or joined at the hip, are driven by desires, fears, and that familiar need for human connection. (Aug.)