“Carlson ably exploits this historical milieu, describing the milling crowds in the exhibition halls; the malodorous, dangerous alleyways of the slum called Five Points; the swampy, still-wild edges of Upper Manhattan. . . . [she] writes sensitively, often beautifully, of the desire to be free of the gaze of others, of the misery of serving as a mirror in which others may see themselves.”
– The New York Times Book Review
“To spend time with Emile and Ana, with the Sioux woman called They Are Afraid of Her or the microcephalic Aztec Children or the poor, doomed conjoined twins or the most charming little beluga whale in the history of literature, is to gaze on them with awe and affection. Every one of these characters has burrowed their way into my own sense of wonder, and they’ll stay with me a long time. I very much look forward to whatever Stacy Carlson comes up with next.”
– Lisa Peet, Open Letters Monthly
“The great mystery of Wonderful is that Barnum, the flashiest character of the 1800s, doesn’t keep center stage. Instead, all our focus, and the entirety of our affection, is directed to the noticeably slouching giantess at the fringes of the action. That’s some kind of show-business magic at work.”
“[Carlson’s] portrait of mid-19th-century New York is as finely hatched as any, with gritty Five Points teeming with malice and child neglect and society ladies kicking off suffrage meetings with spiritualist sessions. But what draws you in are her two narrators, each fumbling their way toward the rest of humanity, toward what is wonderful about being part of the world.”
“Carlson delves into the theme of metamorphosis as she recreates 1840s Manhattan as vividly as she portrays Grizzly Adams and Cornelia the Sewing Dog.”
“Intelligent, engrossing, and utterly unique.”
– Library Journal
“Set against the outlandish arrival of showman P.T. Barnum in 1840s Manhattan, Carlson’s bighearted debut follows two employees of Barnum’s–a giantess and a taxidermist–as they struggle to break free of their personal and emotional shackles. Ana Swift, eight feet tall and resigned to being a spectacle, moves into the fifth floor of the museum Barnum’s bought and slowly learns that wild characters reside both inside and outside of the museum’s walls. Meanwhile, Emile Guillaudeu, a taxidermist who has worked at the museum since long before Barnum’s arrival, is disturbed by the recent death of his wife and the changes going on at the museum. As each ventures beyond their comfort zones, they find a larger physical and emotional world waiting to challenge them. Carlson beautifully evokes 1840s Manhattan–from the teeming downtown to the wilds of undeveloped northern Manhattan. The acrobats, bearded lady, Australian tribesman, Native Americans, and myriad of bizarre animals offer a constant source of fascination and surprise, and while Carlson rightfully revels in the oddities and curiosities, she also creates emotionally resonant characters who, despite being freakishly tall or joined at the hip, are driven by desires, fears, and that familiar need for human connection.”
“Seattle native (and current Oaklander) Stacy Carlson has written a beautiful new work of historical fiction based on P.T. Barnum’s spectacular (and spectacularly doomed) endeavor: Barnum’s American Museum, which thrilled and appalled visitors from 1841 to 1865. Through two museum employees—a taxidermist and a “giantess”—the novel chronicles the museum’s daily life, and in so doing reveals both the normalcy of so-called oddities and the strangeness of the norm.”
— Seattle Magazine
“Making the odd ordinary and the ordinary odd is the business of this novel, and in that sense, Among the Wonderful transcends the limits of storytelling and plunges confidently into the realm of ideas. Is objective inquiry into the natural world possible for mere mortals? Are we part of nature, or outcasts, condemned to despise and feel threatened by anything we don’t recognize? Why is the freakish so perversely fascinating, and what constitutes the limit of the ordinary? These questions arise…through the increasing desperation of the characters’ interactions as they struggle to stay afloat in a leaky, fragile and ultimately doomed enterprise. Stacy’s ability to render this hallucinogenic scene in realistic detail is really something of a marvel in itself.”
– Valerie Martin, Orange Prize-winning author of Property.
“A vivid and fascinating piece of literary Americana, Among the Wonderful brings nineteenth century New York brilliantly to life on the page. Carlson’s sure-handed debut is chock full of big themes and characters who will stick with you long after you set the book down.”
– Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here.
“What a pleasure it was to enter Phineas T. Barnum’s fabled American museum, accompanied by tour guide extraordinaire Stacy Carlson. Among the Wonderful is a smart, big-hearted novel about the desires, difficulties, hopes and fears of the museum’s remarkable residents. I enjoyed every page.”
– Karl Iagnemma, author of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction and The Expeditions.
“Ana Swift’s heart, although she tries to disguise it with an imperious attitude, is as big and hopeful as her size. I found myself wondering how I would react to a world of gawkers and voyeurs. The character of Ana does it with uncommon intelligence and grace.”
– Susan Morgan, The Yankee Bookshop, Woodstock, VT