Cursed Families and Carnival Pasts: ‘The Book of Speculation’

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cover57860-mediumSimon Watson lives alone in a crumbling house on the edge of the sea. Like a Gothic Victorian novel hero, he is constantly trying to just keep the house above water, though he knows eventually it will just fall into the ocean below. Simon looses his job at the local library when budget cuts step in, but not before a mysterious antiquarian bookseller sends him a Carnival Manifest book that will change his life. The book tells the story of a young mute boy who takes on a role as the carnival’s “Wild Boy” before ending up as the assistant to the mysterious fortune teller Madame Ryzkhova. He and the fortune teller become estranged after a beautiful young girl joins the circus as the “mermaid.” The story of the carnival unfolds as Watson quickly realizes the story is eerily closely related to his own family’s misfortunes. When his sister, Enola, returns from her work as a carnival tarot card reader, Simon begins to worry that she may be under a family curse that leads to the drowning of their women at a young age, always on July 24th. Simon must find a way to end the curse and do everything in his power to keep from losing the people that matters along the way.

To say The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler is incredible is a massive understatement. Syler crafts complex characters with intricate backstories the reader actually cares about. While some of the twists in the book are predictable and expected, other plot points completely blindsided me and left me swiftly running through page after page to find out what would happen next. Amos the Wild Boy is a story of a character with a pretty strong disability who has to overcome his lack of audible speech by using Madame Rzykhova’s tarot cards to communicate with the older woman and others in the camp. He is equally as understandable as Simon Watson struggling to keep his family alive. Swyler’s detailed descriptions allow the reader to fall headlong into a world of a traveling carnival while keeping one foot planted in the modern world. She creates an intricate portrait down to the very tattoos on Enola’s boyfriend’s body and the wreckage of a crumbling home.

I devoured The Book of Speculation . It is not a breezy story to take to the beach and will require some concentration and attention to the details. However, the magical trip is absolutely worth the ticket price. I honestly hope to see future works by Erika Swyler as soon as possible.

The Book of Speculation is available June 23, 2015 from St. Martin’s Press.

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