Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: The Swan Gondola

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

Ferret Skerrit makes his living in 1890’s Omaha as a ventriloquist/letter scribe for hire. As the city 
gears up for the World’sFair, actors, con-men, and colorful characters of all types gather to make their fortunes. Among these is Cecily, who becomes the love of Ferret’s life. Ferret has competition, though from one of the wealthiest men around, who can give Cecily more than he ever could in terms of material possessions. Told as a flashback as Ferret recovers from a balloon crash in the house of two maiden sisters on a Nebraska farm, the story alternates between Ferret’s present and his past.

The book was very strong in terms of place. The evocation of the Omaha’s World’s Fair is magnificent; it’s one of the richest evocations of carnival that I’ve ever experienced in a book. The other strength of the story is Schaffert’s incorporation of details from The Wizard of Oz. This story isn’t an allegory or a retelling of the Wizard, but allusions and references occur throughout the book.
While Schaffert is masterful at evocation of place, the story didn’t quite hold up for me. I didn’t ever understand exactly what Ferret saw in Cecily (and what any woman might see in a man named Ferret). That human connection between them (or between them and me) didn’t happen. There were some nifty secondary characters; Ferret’s gay friend August was my favorite.

If you are interested in this era, or this geographical region, this book is not to be missed, but as a love story, it wasn’t as great of a success. 3.5/5*

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