Originally published March 2015
Looking to get lost in a book?
Alice Hoffman’s “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” takes readers back to the early 1900s and New York City—when sweatshops made their fortune on the backs of immigrants and con men knew how to parlay gullibility into profit.
At the center of the book are Coralie (I would almost—ALMOST—have another kid just to name a baby Coralie) and Eddie, who grow up under similar circumstances in different parts of the city—Eddie, a Russian Jew having emigrated as a young boy with his father after his village burned and mother died, and Coralie, the daughter of a French man that’s set up his home and museum of circus sideshow-like oddities near Coney Island.
So, yeah. It’s a love story.
Over the course of the book, readers grow to know both Eddie and Coralie just as they grow to understand their parents’ strengths, weaknesses and true nature. It is not pleasant, but it’s real—life is messy and I’m sure these aren’t the first two kids to realize their parents aren’t what they thought they were.
I don’t want to give too much away, as Eddie and Coralie’s story plays out over 350+ pages. Fortunately for both, Eddie and Coralie have adults that do care watching over them—in Eddie’s case, a con man that takes him under his wing and a photographer that teaches him the trade. Coralie is watched over by Maureen, her caretaker and essentially the mother she never knew.
But I will say this—much like The Night Circus (a longtime favorite), the imagery in this book is profound, in beautiful and haunting ways. Hoffman’s description of a sweatshop fire is both detailed and disturbing, in contrast to her depiction of Coney Island, Dreamland and the cast of characters that take up residence at Coralie’s father’s museum. So vivid and dreamy and beautiful. And sad.
And then beautiful again. Love rules all. Even the ordinary is extraordinary.