On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn't quite sure how it will change him or his city. Read more...
FREE Shipping for Club Members
Not a member? Join Today!
On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn't quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.
One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway's Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair's magic begins to take its effect.
From the critically acclaimed author of "The Coffins of Little Hope," "The Swan Gondola "is a transporting read, reminiscent of "Water for Elephants "or "The Night Circus."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-12-02
- Reviewer: Staff
The latest from Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope) is a love story set during the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair. “Ferret” Skerritt is a ventriloquist who becomes smitten with Cecily, a beauty who comes to town with the fair’s Chamber of Horrors (she plays Marie Antoinette and is beheaded hourly). Deciphering Cecily’s many secrets, including the contents of her mysteriously heavy carpet bag, is just the first challenge Ferret faces in courting her: soon William Wakefield, the fair’s wealthy patron, sees Cecily and decides he wants her for himself. Schaffert’s picture of the fair is enchanting, from the buildings that shimmer with “shattered glass that had been dusted over the whitewash” to the midway attractions, including a theatre where Cecily and Ferret briefly hang from wires and dance in midair. As the two lovers become embroiled with Wakefield, however, the novel loses some of its magic. Additionally, the frequent Wizard of Oz allusions build to nothing. But there are many romantic and historical delights here, and, despite its imperfections, it’s easy to imagine this charming novel attaining Water for Elephants–like popularity with readers. (Feb.)
Love, loss and hot air balloons
At the start of The Swan Gondola, Timothy Schaffert’s enchanting new historical novel, two elderly spinster sisters discover a man in their front yard who has fallen from the sky (or from a hot air balloon, at least). The man in question is Ferret Skerritt, a ventriloquist turned star-crossed lover with an incredible tale to tell.
The story-within-a-story begins several months earlier, in the spring of 1898, at the opening of the Omaha World’s Fair. Ferret, who rolls with a Fellini-like crew of freaks and circus performers, becomes enchanted by Cecily, a beautiful member of a traveling horror troupe. (She plays Marie Antoinette and nightly has her head chopped off.) Despite a rocky start, the two quickly fall in love, and their relationship blossoms amid the magic and mysteries of the fair.But as with all too-good-to-be-true romances, a threat looms. Here, it’s in the form of William Wakefield, an older Fair investor who has an eye on Ferret’s dummy, Oscar—not to mention Cecily herself.
Schaffert clearly did a tremendous amount of research for this book, and he’s at his best when cleaving to historical detail and quirky fact. The uncanny automatons cackle with life; the late-night séances are chill-inducing; and the sinking of the USS Maine is on everyone’s mind. But Schaffert’s period authenticity is also literary in nature. He’s clearly a fan of L. Frank Baum, and Wizard of Oz references are plentiful, though at times heavy-handed.
The Swan Gondola will no doubt garner comparisons to Water for Elephants and The Night Circus, and fans of such historical romances will not be disappointed. There’s plenty of magic to go around in this good, old-fashioned love story.
Read our Q&A with Timothy Schaffert about The Swan Gondola.