cover image We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P.T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman

We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P.T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman

Deborah Noyes. Candlewick, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5981-3

Proceeding chronologically from 1842 to Barnum’s death in 1891, this collection of 11 intertwined stories from Noyes (Tooth & Claw) imagines the inner lives of real people from the Barnum family and business, with the ambitious, exploitative P.T. Barnum serving as a decentered fulcrum. Eight “marginalized women”—miserable wives, neglected daughters, conflicted members of his exhibitions, and a fictitious paid companion to the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind—provide the focus for as many stories, while General Tom Thumb (a little person born Charlie Stratton), President Lincoln’s eldest son Robert, and a fictional teenaged son of a bearded lady comprise the male protagonists. The dramatis personae may be dissimilar, but each story, conveyed in the third-person perspective, emphasizes the central character’s emotional isolation. Rarely does the figure reconcile with their lot in life, lending a bleak tone to the narrative. Though character development is spare, and a puzzling subplot featuring a ghost is left unresolved, these stories vividly engage with their period images (“her knuckles... were the color of new cream”), providing a picture of what life with Barnum might have been like: “We are all his creatures.” B&W photos. Ages 14–up. [em]Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Mar.) [/em]