Coralie Sardie lives with her father at the Museum of Extraordinary Things at Coney Island. The Professor has spent years collecting “freaks of nature,” both living and dead, human and not. These “wonders,” as he calls them, he displays at his museum during the summer months for tourists to gawk at. Coralie doesn’t get to see any of these unusual items until she turns 10 — which also happens to be the time her father presses her into service, as the Human Mermaid, because she was born with webbing between her fingers. Her adolescence is spent in a tank of water, for her father also had spent years training her to hold her breath for long periods of time and to swim like a fish.
But other, more amazing attractions coming to Coney Island threaten the livelihood of the Sardies, and the Professor spends all his spare time figuring out a way to catch the tourists’ attention again. Unfortunately, it involves Coralie, at least in part. And when, one night after a swim in the river, Coralie makes a find that could help the unsavory plan, her life starts to change.
At the same time, Eddie Cohen is just getting by as a photographer, using equipment left to him by his mentor. He mostly photographs news events and sells them to the papers. He is most profoundly affected by the horrible spectacle of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which kills so many young women who had been trapped by factory owners in a tall building to do their low-paid work. The fire engines of the day simply could not reach high enough to save them.
Coralie’s and Eddie’s paths cross in unusual fashion, but their attraction is immediate. Can they possibly break free from the constraints of their lives, the misunderstandings and dangers, to be together and enjoy love?
The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a lovely book that opens an interesting window into early-20th-century New York, where unions are struggling against unfair business owners and dangerous working conditions and people are just getting by, but enjoying some recreation when they can at Coney Island. It’s magical, lyrical, and fascinating.
Rated: Moderate, for one use of strong language and a few occasions of milder language. There is some reference to sexual behaviors and perversions but pretty much not detailed. There are a few scenes that are somewhat disturbing but mostly not very detailed, either.