In 1842 Phineas T. Barnum is a young man, freshly arrived in New York and still unknown to the world. With uncanny confidence and impeccable timing, he transforms a dusty natural history museum into a great ark for public imagination. Barnum's museum, with its human wonders and extraordinary live-animal menagerie, rises to become not only the nation's most popular attraction, but also a catalyst that ushers America out of a culture of glassed-in exhibits and into the modern age of entertainment.
In this kaleidoscopic setting, the stories of two compelling characters are brought to life. Emile Guillaudeu is the museum's grumpy taxidermist, who is horrified by the chaotic change Barnum brings to his beloved institution. Ana Swift is a professional giantess plagued by chronic pain and jaded by a world of gawkers. The differences between these two are many: one is isolated and spends his working hours making dead things look alive, while the other has people pushing against her, and reacting to her, every day. But they both move toward change, one against his will, propelled by a paradigm shift happening whether he likes it or not, and the other because she is struggling to survive.
In many shapes and forms, metamorphosis is at the core of Among the Wonderful. Pursuing this theme, the book weaves a world where upper Manhattan is still untrammeled wilderness, the Five Points is at the height of its bloody glory, and within the walls of Barnum's museum, ancient tribal feuds play out in the midst of an unlikely community of marvels.
"Carlson ably exploits this historical milieu, describing the milling crowds in the exhibition halls; the malodorous, dangerous alleyways of the slum called Five Points; the swampy, still-wild edges of Upper Manhattan.... [she] writes sensitively, often beautifully, of the desire to be free of the gaze of others, of the misery of serving as a mirror in which others may see themselves." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Intelligent, engrossing and utterly unique." (Library Journal)
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it's a shame audible can't be bothered...
Good novel, dreadful narration
Not time well spent. The novel is good enough that I suffered through the narration, but I almost quit a dozen times.
I can't understand why such a dreadful narrator was given this book to read. She has only one tedious rhythm for every sentence: eventually, I came to dread her grim downward declension as each sentence ended. You could nap to her reading, as the cadence of her voice rarely varies. At some points, I wondered if this was computer-generated audio -- but, then, she would try to use an accent for a character's speech, and that sadly demonstrated that this was a real person reading. The accents were timidly attempted and justifiably so: they were awful. I found it painful to hear someone who was supposedly French-born and NYC-raised talking like he came from the Back Bay of Boston.
The editing was bad, too. The different sections of the book were jammed together. It seemed as if the person who "edited" the audio didn't understand that a moment of silence is a useful signal that one section of the text had ended and another would soon begin.
No, not really. I should have quit listening and just read the book.