Monday, April 18, 2016

Onstage we remind them just how extraordinary the ordinary can be

I really liked this book but at the same time, I don't think I gave it a fair shake. Or at least not the level of attention it deserves.

I was reading it in between chapters of Hamilton during #HamAlong, which meant I was picking up the book for a few pages maybe once a week, and most of the time I couldn't really remember where I had left off and was having trouble focusing on the story. Normally I don't have too much trouble reading a second book along with a readalong one, but since Hamilton was sooooo long and also had that soundtrack to go along, non-Hamilton things were having a hard time getting my full attention.

Once #HamAlong was complete and I could go back to Church of Marvels I considered starting over from the beginning, but decided to solider on, mostly cos I wanted to be able to count the pages towards my February totals. And I found that I really liked the story and I will probably need to re-read it in the future without diving in and out of some other book.

When I first started the book, I actually thought it might be a collection of short, slightly interconnected stories, since at first all of the characters introduced seemed unrelated to each other. And of course see above re: distractions due to Hamilton. But as the book progressed, the chapters coalesced into a single story with three main characters all in their own way searching for family and wanting to be seen.

The story takes place in New York city in the late 1800s. It opens with a man named Sylvan finding an abandoned baby during his work as a night soiler (which I'm not entirely clear on but it seems to involve a lot of poop so I'm good not knowing the details). Somehow the baby is still alive and Sylvan tries to figure out what to do with the little girl.

Meanwhile out in Coney Island Odile is dealing with tragedy after tragedy. She was raised at the titular Church of Marvels, a circus run by her mother. Her sister, Belle, and the tigers were stars of the circus but the whole thing mysteriously burned down, killing her mother and the tigers. Then her sister ran off to Manhattan and Odile hasn't heard from her.

Then on Roosevelt Island there's Alphie, a woman who finds herself in a terrible (see 1890s) insane asylum but she certainly doesn't believe she belongs there. She can't remember how she got there and is waiting for her husband to come and rescue her.

I won't go too much into the plot because the way the stories unfurl and overlap and intertwine is part of the fun. New York City of 1890 is not a friendly place. It's dangerous and grimy and some really terrible things happen.

I will reread this at some point so I can really focus on the story. Even knowing the twists, it's still worth it. It's a really well-written, often tragic, sometimes beautiful story.

Gif rating
Title quote from page 3, location 232

Parry, Leslie. Church of Marvels. Ecco, 2015. Kindle