The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
I fell in love with Alice Hoffman when I was still a young adult; before her young adult books, before creating stories with magical realism threaded through them was a more fashionable thing to do. Truth be told, I haven't read as many of her books as I still want to do, but I've read a fair enough number of them to have been both incredibly excited when provided an ARC for this book by Scribner, and also confused about some of my disappointment with this story.
Another reviewer on goodreads (link to the reviewer's account), described the book in this way: "It’s everything that I wanted Night Circus to be. It’s everything Water for Elephants aspired to be and just wasn’t..." and I wholeheartedly agree. I disliked Water for Elephants and couldn't finish it. I likedNight Circus and look forward to reading what Morgenstern does next, but for me it definitely wasn't the glorious book that so many other readers enthuse it to be.
I was daunted by Hoffman's choice, in this book, to switch back and forth between first person and third person narratives in each chapter/section. This wasn't first person character of one protagonist, and then third of another, but rather each section contained the first person thoughts and then third person perspective for either Coralie or Eddie. I... didn't really like this. In fact, the effect was so jarring, that I frequently felt like the two different parts in each section were written by different authors. I'm sure that some of this was intentional, so that the first person felt like the character's own thoughts, but I found that, most of the time, I was entranced by and found very beautiful and poetic language within the first person narratives. Then the third person, signaled by non-italicized font, frequently felt to me like the writing of another author, whose name I won't mention here but has been frequently hailed as a successor to Hoffman in the world of contemporary magical realism, and whose writing I was at first excited to experience but which shortly turned to a major disappointment. Immature, copycat writing. I'm not saying Hoffman's writing in the third person for this book is that, exactly, but it did remind more of that author's writing than what I'm used to with Hoffman. This narrative also became confusing for me, as I was trying to figure out whether certain events were happening in the current story or were flashbacks.
I did find the most disappointing sentences in this book more magical than anything I read in Water for Elephants, and the relationship more romantic and affecting than that in Night Circus. This, despite that I hated that Coralie fell in love with Eddie literally at first sight - she did not speak to him, did not touch him, had absolutely no sense of his intelligence or kindness or life, and yet she walked away declaring herself to be in love with him. That, to me, is lust at first sight, perhaps, but this certainly wasn't how the character described her feelings. I'm aware that Hoffman now writes some young adult novels, and perhaps this instant infatuation, and little to no development of desire within the romance in the story is appropriate there but I want something more adult and authentic feeling from what I understand to be an adult novel. I'm not saying, even, that they have to have sex on the pages or anything, just that to keep them within the realm that she does within the story makes the romance seem less authentic, and as if the characters are being too Disney fairy-tale like and it makes them feel less real.
Hmmm. So. Giving this book four stars because I still love Hoffman, still love the sentences and words she uses, still love the worlds she creates, despite the complaints above. If it weren't for so many beautiful lines and images contained within the first person (journaled?) narratives, I would've certainly dropped it down to three stars. Oh, and four - count 'em, FOUR dogs gracing the pages certainly doesn't hurt (speaking of which, I'm hard-pressed to believe that they would've already been calling pitbulls pitbulls at this time in history? - I may be totally wrong and couldn't find evidence online to either confirm or refute this...)