P.T. Barnum's American Museum in NYC showcases among other things, live perfomances by freaks. The fat lady, the strongest man, the rubber man, the world's thinnest man. The latter, the thinnest man is Bartholomew Fortuno, who sees himself as a gift to humankind, not a freak but a Curiosity. The story is narrated by Bartholomew. He is a proud, reserved man. Matina, the fat lady, is his best friend. The Curiosities all live at the museum and perform daily. There are also Gaffs, those that are considered lesser because they do not have natural born gifts but instead made themselves into freaks.
One night, Bartholomew sees Barnum return from a trip with a woman whose face is covered by a veil. He expects that she is a new addition to the museum, but when she does not appear the next day, Bartholomew becomes curious. He eventually finds the mysterious Iell. She is extremely beautiful and has a long red beard. Bartholomew becomes captivated and ends up in the middle of Iell and Barnum, who has Bartholomew spy in Iell and fetch her mysterious packages in Chinatown. During one of these excursions, Bartholomew is given a root, that a medicine man states "will help him find his true self". Bartholomew finds himself feeling different and acting different and the other Curiosities begin to wonder about him and he begins to question himself and everything he thought was true.
I enjoyed this read immensely. Bryson brought a lot of heart to her characters and made them much more than freaks. Bartholomew was especially fascinating, so proud of who he is and his gift.
My God, what was I doing? I looked around the table, everyone's eyes on me. Without my gift, I'd be like everyone else, and the world was already full of normal people. It was us the the world needed, we Curiosities.
The obsession he has with Iell is what really makes Fortuno question himself and the life he is leading.
This book was also an interesting look into a world I know very little of and the world of P.T. Barnum before he ventures into the circus world.
This was complex, moving, engaging, and fascinating read. I highly recommend this book.
my rating 4.5/5