Alice Hoffman returns with The Museum of Extraordinary Things (see review, p. 56), a historical novel set in vibrant, ever-changing 1911 New York City. Coralie Sardie swims in the mermaid exhibit at her father’s Coney Island freak show; Eddie Cohen is a Russian Orthodox tailor’s apprentice–turned–photographer. Their romance sparks in the aftermath of the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
What appealed to you about the time and place where you set the book, early 20th-century New York City?
I love New York City, and the year 1911 was such a time of great change. I began to do research on the Triangle Factory fire for an article I was writing for the Los Angeles Times and wanted to know more.
Two different real-life fires (at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and Coney Island’s Dreamland amusement park) play parts in The Museum of Extraordinary Things. What led to that decision?
I didn’t plan to write about the Dreamland fire, but when I realized how close they were in time, it seemed natural to set such an intense story line between the two fires that changed New York.
Did you have a say in casting for the audiobook? What appealed to you about the voice actors’ performances?
All of the [actors] are wonderful, but I did go to Judith Light, who is my favorite actress and a friend, and asked if she would consider reading the part of the narrator. When I heard her telling the story I have to say my own work became new to me. I heard things I hadn’t realized were there before. Judith is simply amazing. She brings incredible depth to the story.
Coralie, your protagonist, is the daughter of a sideshow impresario and a performer. If you had to be in a sideshow, what kind of act would you like to have?
Oh, I would love to work with animals. Dogs, elephants, horses, but not the big cats—I’m not brave enough for that. But in all honesty, I would likely be the fortune-teller. That’s my true calling.