cover image The Swan Gondola

The Swan Gondola

Timothy Schaffert. Riverhead, $27.95 (464p) ISBN 978-1-59448-609-8

The latest from Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope) is a love story set during the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair. “Ferret” Skerritt is a ventriloquist who becomes smitten with Cecily, a beauty who comes to town with the fair’s Chamber of Horrors (she plays Marie Antoinette and is beheaded hourly). Deciphering Cecily’s many secrets, including the contents of her mysteriously heavy carpet bag, is just the first challenge Ferret faces in courting her: soon William Wakefield, the fair’s wealthy patron, sees Cecily and decides he wants her for himself. Schaffert’s picture of the fair is enchanting, from the buildings that shimmer with “shattered glass that had been dusted over the whitewash” to the midway attractions, including a theatre where Cecily and Ferret briefly hang from wires and dance in midair. As the two lovers become embroiled with Wakefield, however, the novel loses some of its magic. Additionally, the frequent Wizard of Oz allusions build to nothing. But there are many romantic and historical delights here, and, despite its imperfections, it’s easy to imagine this charming novel attaining Water for Elephants–like popularity with readers. (Feb.)