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York County Public Library

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Jul 12

Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Posted on July 12, 2017 at 11:52 AM by Elizabeth Land

If you love old books, family history, carnivals, magical realism and the beach, the York County Public Library has your next summer read!

The Book of SpeculationIn The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler tells the tale of Simon Watson, a librarian who is reminded every day of his mother, a circus mermaid who drowned herself when he was young. Maybe that's because he is still living in the family house, having taken over the task of keeping it from falling apart around him after his father died. On top of the stress of maintaining a decrepit house located on a beach cliff and keeping his job at an underfunded library, he struggles to reconnect with his sister, who ran away to join a traveling circus years ago. 

When he receives a mysterious old manuscript from an antique book dealer, he recognizes a name in the book as his grandmother's and his life is forever changed. As he traces his family's history, he discovers the women in his family— all circus mermaids who dabble in fortune-telling — have tragically died young on July 24. As the date nears, he frantically tries to figure out what set his family on this tragic path in time to save his younger sister, now a fortune-teller in a traveling carnival who has been seeing a terrible fate play out in the cards. 

Swyler skillfully interweaves the family history— beginning with a bastard turned circus "wild boy" who falls in love with a young woman who cannot be drowned — with Simon's frantic quest to break the cycle. Like all beautiful historical novels, Swyler makes you believe you are traveling with a show through America in the 1700 and 1800s. Simon's story increases the suspense, making the history more important as you get pulled into the lives of those in the present. Even the fantastical elements, which are featured more prominently in the flashbacks, are believable. 

For those who enjoyed the historic circus elements in Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, or the literary mystery found in The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett, The Book of Speculation is an engrossing and thought-provoking read. Reserve your copy today by calling 890-5100 or by visiting our online catalog.