Thursday, December 10, 2015

Church Of Marvels by Leslie Parry

In the New York City of 1895, life was not easy for anyone, and especially for women on their own.  But some women found a way to handle the strictures society placed on them.  One of these women was Friendship Willingbird Church.  She created and ran a Coney Island sideshow called The Church Of Marvels.  She and her acts, some gymnasts and stage assistants like her twins, others sideshow acts, created a world of marvels for the viewers.  When it caught fire and burned to the ground, killing Friendship in the process, a quilt of interconnected events started that brought many other individuals together.

The first event was the separation of the Church twins, Belle and Odile.  After the fire, Belle had gone into a depression and then left, leaving no word of where she could be found.  At first, Odile accepted Belle's departure but as the months went by, she resolved to find her.  At a time when going from the Island to the city was a major trip, this was a momentous decision.

In the city, other events were occurring.  Sylvan, a young man who cleaned night soil from privies, had a life-changing occurrence happen when he discovered a baby in one of the outhouses he was cleaning.  Although the rest of the gang told him to just leave her there, he took the baby home and decided to raise her.

Another young woman, Alphie, awakes to find herself in a nightmare.  She has gone afoul of her mother in law, and has been shipped off to an insane asylum where there is no hope of kindness or even basic care.  There is no one who will listen to her explanations of how she got there or to believe anything she said.  All that was desired was instant obedience to any command, and any deviation led to abuse.  Alphie and another inmate plot to escape and manage to do so, heading back to the city.

With all the players in place, the reader starts to make the connections that prove all of these individuals are bonded in various ways, and that each of them plays a part in the others' lives.  This unfolding of a complex plot that once revealed, seems inevitable, is one of the things that makes this novel such a successful debut novel.

Leslie Parry is a graduate of the famous Iowa Writers' Workshop.  Her short stories have appeared in publications such as The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Missouri and Cincinnati Reviews, and The Pen/O'Henry Prize Stories.  This debut novel has received much praise from the literary world and can be found on many Best of 2015 lists.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and anyone willing to be amazed.

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