I requested Alice Hoffman’s latest novel because I thought 2011′s The Dovekeepers was among the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Let it be said, I’m an Alice Hoffman newbie: I’ve only read The Dovekeepers and this latest offering. But I know that she can write and achieve a depth of characterization that totally infuses her pages.
Case in point: Hoffman’s does an impressive job with the backstories of Coralie and Eddie in The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Both feel bound by existential chains – one tormented by his freedom in defecting from his religious faith and the other tormented by her confinement, under the care of her sinister father. You will feel the agony of them both – how lost they are, how much they regret, how much more they hope for themselves. But then, when they come together finally, after 200 pages and several interweaving stories, the substance crumbles. They fall in love instantly and don’t struggle to traverse each other’s difficult pasts so that they might create a future together. Coralie pines over Eddie the entire book because of a singular time she sighted him in the woods and Eddie dreams of her nightly. Ultimately, their basis for being together seems wispy and insubstantial, more convenient then anything else, once they converge during a specific point in the plot.
Not only was the love of the main characters unbelievable, several subplots seemed unnecessary, crowding what should have been a much more developed story. I would’ve liked to see this book be simply about the starkly different realities of Coralie and Eddie – one an attraction in a museum on Coney Island, an anomaly because of her webbed fingers, and the other a former tailor venturing down questionable paths. Instead there is a murder mystery thrown in, a father figure made out to be a Frankenstein creator and (we’re supposed to believe) Coralie herself who is half human, half mermaid. Hoffman is known for her magical realism but in this book it was a little too much for me. I preferred The Dovekeepers – more gritty, real, powerful and epic as it is. In fact, I recommend it highly. Make it the next book you pick up – it’s that good – and leave The Museum of Extraordinary Things to fantasy.
Many thanks to Scribner, a division of Simon and Schuster, for my review copy!