Church of Marvels

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Are There Lesbians? No

What Happens?
After the discovery of a baby in a privy in 1890’s New York the lives of four strangers become entwined.

The Verdict:

The GF: You should review more things with trans people

Next minute

Me: Oh hey so this book has trans people in it.

Other things Church of Marvels has:

  • A Black/mix raced main character as the only male protagonist
  • A disabled main character
  • A trans main character
  • Women protecting each other and being badass
  • An adoption agency
  • A mental asylum
  • A shadow play by disabled homeless children in an underground cavern
  • Opium dens
  • Brothels
  • Abuse
  • An elderly woman obsessed with teeth, monsters and having a daughter

To name just a few.

Ok so things probably got a bit dark at the end there, but Church of Marvels, if i’m honest does get pretty dark at some points. The important thing is, however, that the majority of trails are overcome by those who face them. The ending is not entirely what is expected and not all the characters necessarily end up with what they wanted at the beginning of the novel, but it is easy to see that they get what they need, and in good literary tradition, this change takes place through a believable series of events.

I feel it important to mention before I really get into this review that I’m not a huge fan of novels with multiple protagonists and storylines because I get impatient wanting to know what favourite characters are doing. I didn’t feel this quite as much reading Church of Marvels however, as the storylines intertwine in such a way that you see what others are doing – it is simply a matter of point of view, and as some protagonists know more about events than others, it is a good way of seeing the wider picture.

Church of Marvels examines the idea of the other through an entertaining means. Primarily this is through the isolated and isolating community of the eponymous Coney Island circus “The Church of Marvels” whose ghost haunts the novel, pervading the chapters even of those who never visited it. The threat of the other is continually present through the unseen threat of disease and, at the foreground, that of sexuality, particularly deviant sexuality – the novel being based on a pregnancy that was not supposed to happen and the underground world of abortionists, adoption agencies and brothels. It is hard to examine these themes closely without mentioning the ending and the story as a whole, so I shan’t spoil it. Suffice it to say that each character is marginalised through different means but, in the end, each comes to terms with themselves and ultimately, finds their home.

I said previously that the novel is “dark” – this is not strictly speaking true, perhaps gritty is a better term, as even the bleakest of moments are tinged with hope and a belief in the ability of the protagonists to prevail.

Read Church of Marvels for a bittersweet ending, for a journey through late 19th c. New York, for a tour of humanity in all its parts. But most of all, read the church of marvels for protagonists who do not define themselves by the boundaries in which others seek to enclose them.

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