One of BuzzFeed's 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015
"As Simon, a lonely research librarian, searches frantically for the key to a curse that might be killing the women in his family, he learns strange and fascinating secrets about their past. A tale full of magic and family mystery, The Book of Speculation will keep you up all night reading."Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.
One June day, an old book arrives on Simon's doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drownedalways on July 24, which is only weeks away.
As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon's family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?
In the tradition of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, The Book of Speculationwith two-color illustrations by the authoris Erika Swyler's moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.
|Edition description:||Large Print|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
ERIKA SWYLER is a graduate of New York University. Her short fiction has appeared in WomenArts Quarterly Journal, Litro, Anderbo.com, and elsewhere. Her writing is featured in the anthology Colonial Comics, and her work as a playwright has received note from the Jane Chambers Award. Born and raised on Long Island's North Shore, Erika learned to swim before she could walk, and happily spent all her money at traveling carnivals. She blogs and has a baking Tumblr with a following of 60,000. Erika recently moved from Brooklyn back to her hometown, which inspired the setting of the book. The Book of Speculation is her debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Book of Speculation
By Erika Swyler
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Erika Swyler
All rights reserved.
Perched on the bluff's edge, the house is in danger. Last night's storm tore land and churned water, littering the beach with bottles, seaweed, and horseshoe crab carapaces. The place where I've spent my entire life is unlikely to survive the fall storm season. The Long Island Sound is peppered with the remains of homes and lifetimes, all ground to sand in its greedy maw. It is a hunger.
Measures that should have been taken — bulkheads, terracing — weren't. My father's apathy left me to inherit an unfixable problem, one too costly for a librarian in Napawset. But we librarians are known for being resourceful.
I walk toward the wooden stairs that sprawl down the cliff and lean into the sand. I've been delinquent in breaking in my calluses this year and my feet hurt where stones chew at them. On the north shore few things are more essential than hard feet. My sister, Enola, and I used to run shoeless in the summers until the pavement got so hot our toes sank into the tar. Outsiders can't walk these shores.
At the bottom of the steps Frank McAvoy waves to me before turning his gaze to the cliff. He has a skiff with him, a beautiful vessel that looks as if it's been carved from a single piece of wood. Frank is a boatwright and a good man who has known my family since before I was born. When he smiles his face breaks into the splotchy weathered lines of an Irishman with too many years in the sun. His eyebrows curl upward and disappear beneath the brim of an aging canvas hat he's never without. Had my father lived into his sixties he might have looked like Frank, with the same yellowed teeth, the reddish freckles.
To look at Frank is to remember me, young, crawling among wood set up for a bonfire, and his huge hand pulling me away from a toppling log. He summons memories of my father poised over a barbecue, grilling corn — the smell of charred husk and burning silk — while Frank regaled us with fishing stories. Frank lied hugely, obviously. My mother and his wife egged him on, their laughter frightening the gulls. Two people are now missing from the tableau. I look at Frank and see my parents; I imagine it's impossible for him to look at me and not see his departed friends.
"Looks like the storm hit you hard, Simon," he says.
"I know. I lost five feet." Five feet is an underestimate.
"I told your dad that he needed to get on that bulkhead, put in trees." The McAvoy property lies a few hundred yards west of my house, farther back from the water with a terraced and planted bluff that's designed to save Frank's house come hell or, literally, high water.
"Dad was never big on listening."
"No, he wasn't. Still, a patch or two on that bulkhead could have saved you a world of trouble."
"You know what he was like." The silence, the resignation.
Frank sucks air through his teeth, making a dry whistling sound. "I guess he thought he had more time to fix things."
"Probably," I say. Who knows what my father thought?
"The water's been coming up high the last couple years, though."
"I know. I can't let it go much longer. If you've got somebody you trust, I'd appreciate the name of a contractor."
"Absolutely. I can send someone your way." He scratches the back of his neck. "I won't lie, though, it won't be cheap."
"Nothing is anymore, is it?"
"No, I suppose not."
"I may wind up having to sell."
"I'd hate to see you do that." Frank's brow furrows, tugging his hat down.
"The property is worth something even if the house goes."
"Think on it some."
Frank knows my financial constraints. His daughter, Alice, also works at the library. Redheaded and pretty, Alice has her father's smile and a way with kids. She's better with people than I am, which is why she handles programming and I'm in reference. But we're not here about Alice, or the perilous state of my house. We're here to do what we've done for over a decade, setting buoys to cordon off a swimming area. The storm was strong enough to pull the buoys and their anchors ashore, leaving them a heap of rusted chains and orange rope braid, alive with barnacles. It's little wonder I lost land.
"Shall we?" I ask.
"Might as well. Day's not getting any younger."
I strip off my shirt, heft the chains and ropes over a shoulder, and begin the slow walk into the water.
"Sure you don't need a hand?" Frank asks. The skiff scrapes against the sand as he pushes it into the water.
"No thanks, I've got it." I could do it by myself, but it's safer to have Frank follow me. He isn't really here for me; he's here for the same reason I do this walk every year: to remember my mother, Paulina, who drowned in this water.
The Sound is icy for June, but once in I am whole and my feet curl around algae-covered rocks as if made to fit them. The anchor chains slow me, but Frank keeps pace, circling the oars. I walk until the water reaches my chest, then neck. Just before dipping under I exhale everything, then breathe in, like my mother taught me on a warm morning in late July, like I taught my sister.
The trick to holding your breath is to be thirsty.
"Out in a quick hard breath," my mother said, her voice soft just by my ear. In the shallow water her thick black hair flowed around us in rivers. I was five years old. She pressed my stomach until muscle sucked in, navel almost touching spine. She pushed hard, sharp fingernails pricking. "Now in, fast. Quick, quick, quick. Spread your ribs wide. Think wide." She breathed and her rib cage expanded, bird-thin bones splayed until her stomach was barrel-round. Her bathing suit was a bright white glare in the water. I squinted to watch it. She thumped a finger against my sternum. Tap. Tap. Tap. "You're breathing up, Simon. If you breathe up you'll drown. Up cuts off the space in your belly." A gentle touch. A little smile. My mother said to imagine you're thirsty, dried out and empty, and then drink the air. Stretch your bones and drink wide and deep. Once my stomach rounded to a fat drum she whispered, "Wonderful, wonderful. Now, we go under."
Now, I go under. Soft rays filter down around the shadow of Frank's boat. I hear her sometimes, drifting through the water, and glimpse her now and then, behind curtains of seaweed, black hair mingling with kelp.
My breath fractures into a fine mist over my skin.
Paulina, my mother, was a circus and carnival performer, fortune-teller, magician's assistant, and mermaid who made her living by holding her breath. She taught me to swim like a fish, and she made my father smile. She disappeared often. She would quit jobs or work two and three at once. She stayed in hotels just to try out other beds. My father, Daniel, was a machinist and her constant. He was at the house, smiling, waiting for her to return, waiting for her to call him darling.
Simon, darling. She called me that as well.
I was seven years old the day she walked into the water. I've tried to forget, but it's become my fondest memory of her. She left us in the morning after making breakfast. Hard-boiled eggs that had to be cracked on the side of a plate and peeled with fingernails, getting bits of shell underneath them. I cracked and peeled my sister's egg, cutting it into slivers for her toddler fingers. Dry toast and orange juice to accompany. The early hours of summer make shadows darker, faces fairer, and hollows all the more angular. Paulina was a beauty that morning, swanlike, someone who did not fit. Dad was at work at the plant. She was alone with us, watching, nodding as I cut Enola's egg.
"You're a good big brother, Simon. Look out for Enola. She'll want to run off on you. Promise you won't let her."
"You're a wonderful boy, aren't you? I never expected that. I didn't expect you at all."
The pendulum on the cuckoo clock ticked back and forth. She tapped a heel on the linoleum, keeping quiet time. Enola covered herself with egg and crumbs. I battled to eat and keep my sister clean.
After a while my mother stood and smoothed the front of her yellow summer skirt. "I'll see you later, Simon. Goodbye, Enola."
She kissed Enola's cheek and pressed her lips to the top of my head. She waved goodbye, smiled, and left for what I thought was work. How could I have known that goodbye meant goodbye? Hard thoughts are held in small words. When she looked at me that morning, she knew I would take care of Enola. She knew we could not follow. It was the only time she could go.
Not long after, while Alice McAvoy and I raced cars across her living room rug, my mother drowned herself in the Sound.
I lean into the water, pushing with my chest, digging in my toes. A few more feet and I drop an anchor with a muffled clang. I look at the boat's shadow. Frank is anxious. The oars slap the surface. What must it be like to breathe water? I imagine my mother's contorted face, but keep walking until I can set the other anchor, and then empty the air from my lungs and tread toward the shore, trying to stay on the bottom for as long as possible — a game Enola and I used to play. I swim only when it's too difficult to maintain the balance to walk, then my arms move in steady strokes, cutting the Sound like one of Frank's boats. When the water is just deep enough to cover my head, I touch back down to the bottom. What I do next is for Frank's benefit.
"Slowly, Simon," my mother told me. "Keep your eyes open, even when it stings. It hurts more coming out than going in, but keep them open. No blinking." Salt burns but she never blinked, not in the water, not when the air first hit her eyes. She was moving sculpture. "Don't breathe, not even when your nose is above. Breathe too quickly and you get a mouthful of salt. Wait," she said, holding the word out like a promise. "Wait until your mouth breaks the water, but breathe through your nose, or it looks like you're tired. You can never be tired. Then you smile." Though small-mouthed and thin-lipped, her smile stretched as wide as the water. She showed me how to bow properly: arms high, chest out, a crane taking flight. "Crowds love very small people and very tall ones. Don't bend at the waist like an actor; it cuts you off. Let them think you're taller than you are." She smiled at me around her raised arms, "And you're going to be very tall, Simon." A tight nod to an invisible audience. "Be gracious, too. Always gracious."
I don't bow, not for Frank. The last time I bowed was when I taught Enola and the salt stung our eyes so badly we looked like we'd been fighting. Still, I smile and take in a deep breath through my nose, let my ribs stretch and fill my gut.
"Thought I was going to have to go in after you," Frank calls.
"How long was I down?"
He eyes his watch with its cracked leather strap and expels a breath. "Nine minutes."
"Mom could do eleven." I shake the water from my hair, thumping twice to get it out of my ear.
"Never understood it," Frank mutters as he frees the oars from the locks. They clatter when he tosses them inside the skiff. There's a question neither of us asks: how long would it take for a breath-holder to drown?
When I throw on my shirt it's full of sand; a consequence of shore living, it's always in the hair, under the toenails, in the folds of the sheets.
Frank comes up behind me, puffing from dragging the boat.
"You should have let me help you with that."
He slaps my back. "If I don't push myself now and again I'll just get old."
We make small talk about things at the marina. He complains about the prevalence of fiberglass boats, we both wax poetic about Windmill, the racing sail he'd shared with my father. After Mom drowned, Dad sold the boat without explanation. It was cruel of him to do that to Frank, but I suppose Frank could have bought it outright if he'd wanted. We avoid talking about the house, though it's clear he's upset over the idea of selling it. I'd rather not sell either. Instead we exchange pleasantries about Alice. I say I'm keeping an eye out for her, though it's unnecessary.
"How's that sister of yours? She settled anywhere yet?"
"Not that I know of. To be honest, I don't know if she ever will."
Frank smiles a little. We both think it: Enola is restless like my mother.
"Still reading tarot cards?" he asks.
"She's getting by." She's taken up with a carnival. Once that's said, we've ticked off the requisite conversational boxes. We dry off and heft the skiff back up on the bulkhead.
"Are you heading up?" I ask. "I'll walk back with you."
"It's a nice day," he says. "Think I'll stay down here awhile." The ritual is done. We part ways once we've drowned our ghosts.
I take the steps back, avoiding the poison ivy that grows over the railings and runs rampant over the bluff — no one pulls it out; anything that anchors the sand is worth whatever evil it brings — and cut through the beach grass, toward home. Like many Napawset houses, mine is a true colonial, built in the late 1700s. A plaque from the historical society hung beside the front door until it blew away in a nor'easter a few years back. The Timothy Wabash house. With peeling white paint, four crooked windows, and a sloping step, the house's appearance marks prolonged negligence and a serious lack of funds.
On the faded green front step (have to get to that) a package props open the screen door. The deliveryman always leaves the door open though I've left countless notes not to; the last thing I need is to rehang a door on a house that hasn't been square since the day it was built. I haven't ordered anything and can't think of anyone who would send me something. Enola is rarely in one place long enough to mail more than a postcard. Even then they're usually blank.
The package is heavy, awkward, and addressed with the spidery scrawl of an elderly person — a style I'm familiar with, as the library's patrons are by and large an aging group. That reminds me, I need to talk to Janice about finding stretchable dollars in the library budget. Things might not be too bad if I can get a patch on the bulkhead. It wouldn't be a raise, a one-time bonus maybe, for years of service. The sender is no one I know, an M. Churchwarry in Iowa. I clear a stack of papers from the desk — a few articles on circus and carnivals, things I've collected over the years to keep abreast of my sister's life.
The box contains a good-sized book, carefully wrapped. Even before opening it, the musty, slightly acrid scent indicates old paper, wood, leather, and glue. It's enveloped in tissue and newsprint, and unwrapping reveals a dark leather binding covered with what would be intricate scrollwork had it not suffered substantial water damage. A small shock runs through me. It's very old, not a book to be handled with naked fingers, but seeing as it's already ruined, I give in to the quiet thrill of touching something with history. The edges of the undamaged paper are soft, gritty. The library's whaling collection lets me dabble in archival work and restoration, enough to say that the book feels to be at least from the 1800s. This is appointment reading, not a book you ship without warning. I shuffle my papers into two small stacks to support the volume — a poor substitute for the bookstands it deserves, but they'll do.
A letter is tucked inside the front cover, written in watery ink with the same shaky hand.
Dear Mr. Watson,
I came across this book at auction as part of a larger lot I purchased on speculation. The damage renders it useless to me, but a name inside it — Verona Bonn — led me to believe it might be of interest to you or your family. It's a lovely book, and I hope that it finds a good home with you. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions that you feel I may be able to answer.
It is signed by a Mr. Martin Churchwarry of Churchwarry & Son and includes a telephone number. A bookseller, specializing in used and antiquarian books.
Verona Bonn. What my grandmother's name would be doing inside this book is beyond me. A traveling performer like my mother, she would have had no place in her life for a book like this. With the edge of my finger, I turn a page. The paper nearly crackles with the effort. Must remember to grab gloves along with book stands. The inside page is filled with elaborate writing, an excessively ornamented copperplate with whimsical flourishes that make it barely legible. It appears to be an accounting book or journal of a Mr. Hermelius Peabody, related to something containing the words portable and miracle. Any other identifiers are obscured by water damage and Mr. Peabody's devotion to calligraphy. Skimming reveals sketches of women and men, buildings, and fanciful curved-roof wagons, all in brown. I never knew my grandmother. She passed away when my mother was a child, and my mother never spoke about her much. How this book connects to my grandmother is unclear, but it's interesting nonetheless.
Excerpted from The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. Copyright © 2015 Erika Swyler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 Stars I am not really sure what I expected from this book but I finished it feeling rather disappointed and completely underwhelmed. The story never quite pulled me in even though there were some sections that did catch my attention. In the end, this is one of those books that I will probably forget quickly. It wasn't a book that I hated but I didn't really like it either. This book is told in alternating timelines which I admit that I am not a fan of. In the present time, Simon is a young librarian who receives a book that is believed to contain information regarding his family. Simon spends much of his free time researching the book and trying to figure out a way to save his house which is about to fall into the ocean. The past focuses on Amos, a mute child, who starts out being abandoned by his family and must fend for himself in the woods. He stumbles upon a traveling circus and soon becomes a vital member of the group as he grows into adulthood. One of the problems that I had with this book is that anytime something would become interesting in either timeline the book would immediately switch to the other period of time. The two time periods were not as connected as I had hoped they would be which really interrupted the flow in my reading. The pacing of the story felt really off and there just wasn't enough going on during a large part of the story. The characters in this story felt flat and I had a hard time connecting with any of them. With the exception of Enola and Doyle, the characters in the present time are B-O-R-I-N-G. The characters in the past were more interesting but only slightly so. The only characters that I actually liked in this book were Amos and Doyle. Doyle's role in the story is rather minor but he was my favorite character in the book. I thought Amos was interesting especially in the scenes before he joins the circus. There were parts of the book that I felt were stronger than others. I thought that the conclusion to the story was well done. This is not a feel good story and I found much of the book to be rather depressing. I would not recommend this book but I can see what some people may see in this book. I think that this just wasn't the right book for me. I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley for the purpose of providing an honest review.
I've seen this compared to the Night Circus, it's not the Night Circus and that's just fine with me. A librarian who lives in the family home on an edge of a cliff at the ocean in Long Island receives a book that has his grandmother's name in it from a bookseller in Iowa. The story plays out as the young man finds his maternal family is mentioned in the book which happens to be a traveling circus record book beginning in the 1700's He and his sister come from a line of circus mermaids/fortune tellers. The similarity he finds is his grandmothers (remarkable water breathers) going back centuries, die on the same day of drowning just as his mother did and now he fears his sister will too. He must unravel the mystery of the book in time to save his sister. Debut novel, very well written and quite the mystery.
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler is an interesting book. Simon Watson is a librarian in Napawset. He receives a book in the mail from Martin Churchwarry of Churchwarry and Sons. The book is very old and, unfortunately, suffers from water damage. Simon starts reading the book because his grandmother’s name is written in it. The book was started by Hermelius Peabody who ran a type of traveling carnival called Peabody’s Portable Magic and Miracles. There was the wild boy, the fortune teller, the mermaid, and etc. The book turns out to be an owner’s log. It is supposed to always stay with the show. The book has ideas for acts, the names of the performers, accounting information, items obtained, and so on. The book makes Simon research his family history. Simon discovers that there is a trend. Simon lost his mother when he was a little boy. His sister, Enola, was only two at the time. While their mother was an expert swimmer and could hold her breath for close to ten minutes under water, she drowned. Then Simon finds out that his grandmother drowned. The same month as his mother. They both died in July and before they were thirty years old. Upon more research he finds out that the women in his family have all drowned before they were thirty in the month of July. Simon is worried about his sister, Enola. She has come home for a visit and is acting strangely. Simon believes the book was sent to him for a reason. The book alternates between modern time with Simon and the past when Hermelius Peabody meet the Wild Boy (they named him Amos). Amos was the product of a farmer’s wife and a traveling salesman. The wife’s husband left him in the wood when he was old enough to feed himself and walk. Amos came upon Peabody and traveling acts. Amos was a mute. The story tells of Amos’ time with Peabody, how he learned to read tarot cards, and fell in love with a “mermaid”. It all connects together. Can Simon figure out why the women in his family are cursed in time to save Enola? I give The Book of Speculation 3 out of 5 stars. It is an interesting story, great idea, but the book is a slow read. It just seems to go on forever. There is a copious amount of foul language in this book (and completely unnecessary), mild violence (people hitting each other), and a moderate amount of sex. This book had great potential, but instead it is a mediocre (I found it dissatisfying). I received a complimentary copy of The Book of Speculation in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are my own.
A good plot but a bit confusing at times.
Why do some people feel compelled to write a lengthy "summary" of the book when it gives away the entire story? It is extremely annoying. In this particular incident I was wondering WHY bother to even read the book when it is already laid out in detail in their "review?" You should put a limit on how many words can be used. Thank you.
As Simon Watson is trying to figure out what to do about the fact that his family home is perched on an ever-eroding cliff on Long Island Sound, an ancient book is delivered to his doorstep. Simon is a librarian who works with very old books in the archives of the library, so he is experienced enough to tell that this book is hundreds of years old. It is an eighteenth-century journal filled with sketches and stories of people in a circus. When he contacts a Mr. Churchwarry, the man who sent the book, he is told that, somehow, the book relates to his family. Meanwhile, Simon worries about his sister who ran off to join the circus. Her visit home is fast approaching. A detail in the ancient book leads him to believe that she is in serious danger as a result of an old family curse. This is an amazing book for all those who are in love with books! However, it deals not only with a sincere reverence for books. This book has it all. The characters are well-developed and very real. They tell the reader a story about family, love, betrayal, and mermaids. This book is filled with unforgettable imagery, sentiment, and magic.
I absolutely love finding stories that I could only dream of writing. This includes everything I love...magical love, mermaids, and heartbreak.
Quick easy read. Slow to start, but unravels nicely. Like watching a movie.
4 stars to Erika Swyler's The Book of Speculation, a beautiful story full of intense imagery and powerful connections among the many characters. With a slight border into the fantasy realm, this tale is well-woven and provides an opportunity to feel the impact the past has across a family's descendants and relationships. The book alternates chapters weaving the past and the present together while challenging the reader to determine the connection between the two stories. Story In the past, a traveling carnival and circus heads up and down the Eastern seaboard in the mid 18th century lead by the incomparable Peabody. Along the way, he takes in stray who become part of his acts and his own life. When he's forced to choose between some of the older members and the newer finds, disaster strikes causing a flood of impacts for the future. In the present, Simon Watson, receives a book from a mysterious bookseller in Iowa. Simon's Long Island shore house is crumbling and he loses his job as a librarian in difficult economic times. His wayward carnie sister comes home resembling their late mother. His childhood friend becomes his lover. He begins to make connections between the people in the book he receives with his own family but doesn't understand what it means. All the women are tied together on a certain date under certain weather conditions. The two stories collide in a powerful realization leaving Simon at the center of preventing the same fate from happening to his sister. In the end, everything he knew about his life is turned upside down and he finds himself a tragic hero. But will he sacrifice himself in order to preserve his family? Strengths The imagery is stunning. The intensity of the relationships is beautiful. The connections among the characters are vast. It's a very simple story but it's a very complex fall-out. The author hits the art form right in its center, providing a wonderfully tragic tale full of intrigue, suspense and drama. You never know who to root for, but you want them all to survive the impacts. It's one of the only books where I didn't need to care so much about specific characters as I did for the way they all relate to one another. It's about relationships and trust, love and power. Suggestions I generally am not a huge fantasy fan, but when I read fantasy, I want it to go all out, e.g. Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings... this book crosses a very fine line of not actually having any fantasy in it, but the underlying arc that drives the connection feels like it has fantastical elements at its core. I would have liked to see that explored more so it had a very clear purpose in the end (don't want to give away spoilers). A little too much is left to interpretation on what really happened, and why it's happening... which is OK, I like the unknown magic aspects, but given this was such a strong and powerful story, I wanted a little more depth to the core of "why." Final Thoughts I like the author's style and would want to read more from her. I'm curious to see what others think of this debut novel. It has so many great components and images, it's bound to be a success. At the same time, it was missing that final piece to push it over the edge and gain immense popularity. The title, "The Book of Speculation" could have been explored more and it would have knocked it out of the park for me.
Simon receives a book in the mail about an old carnival from the late 1700's from a rare bookseller. In it is a history of the carnival and names of his ancestors. He researches the names and the carnival. As he does he sees parallels between the carnival and now. Can he avoid what has happened in the past? This was not what I expected. I liked the present day story as I watched Simon research the book and his family. A lot was happening to Simon. I had a harder time getting into the 1700 carnival chapters. It was like a different story and I had a harder time relating to these people. Inferences had to be made so that the story from the past connected to the present. Secrets are revealed. Hurt and pain follow. The ending is open-ended and I don't know that I liked that. I would have liked closure for the characters and me.
The Book of Speculation centers on Simon Watson, a young librarian living in his family’s old house on Long Island. Simon’s mother, a circus “mermaid” breath holder, drowned long ago and his father died soon after, leaving Simon to raise his younger sister Enola alone. Now an adult, Enola has been on the road for six years reading tarot cards in a traveling carnival. Simon barely makes ends meet at home, letting the house fall into disrepair as he faces a layoff at his library. Then Simon finds a mysterious book on his doorstep that sets everything in motion. It's an 18th century carnival log that details the drowning of another circus “mermaid” who happens to be an ancestor of Simon and Enola. Simon learns that generations of “mermaid” women in his family have drowned just like his mother, all on June 24. With the date fast approaching, Simon races to find out whether and why his family is cursed in order to save his sister from the same fate. This book hooked me from the first chapter and kept me guessing until the very end. Swyler writes convincingly and authentically about circus performers and their fascinating history. I was completely spellbound by her descriptions of death-defying breath holders, vengeful fortune tellers, and apocalyptic natural phenomena. Like the storyline itself, the characters are complex, well-developed, and totally unforgettable. I would recommend this atmospheric, quirky novel to anyone looking for a cozy long weekend page-turner.
Very interesting book, different from others I have read, but really great book. Highly recommend.
The Book of Speculation is very well written and quite a quirky and suspenseful mystery. I enjoyed Erika Swyler’s unique writing style. The story’s two time periods were a bit choppy and not as connected as I had hoped they would be which really interrupted the flow in reading. The pacing of the story felt a bit off-center and there were depressing, boring sections that should have been better developed. Some sections were stronger than others, others a slow read. I would have enjoyed the mystical element being explored even further, and I did appreciate the family history aspect with sins of the past coming to light. Overall, an impressive debut novel.
The Book of Speculation captured me from the very first sentence with beautiful language and a uniquely crafted family tale. I wanted to stay in both Simon and Amos’ worlds a bit longer, if only to experience Swyler’s uncanny ability to enchant me with her words, much like Evangeline enchanted those with her presence. Everything had a touch of whimsy and danger with each turning page, and after page 60 or so, I finished this book in one sitting. The building upon the family mystery was done so masterfully that I spent my entire Sunday afternoon gripped to the book until I knew Simon and his family’s fate. At moments, I found the flashbacks to Amos to be more gripping, just because of the beautiful and terrifying backdrop of the carnival. Though, as I reached the end when Simon discovered at an alarming rate that his sister might be the next to share the same fate as his ancestors, I enjoyed looking through his eyes again. As a big fan of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, I found the comparison natural. I would encourage those who have not read The Book of Speculation to greet it with an open mind and heart, and let the story of carnival mermaids and family secrets whisk you away for a calm Sunday afternoon. “Once you’ve held a book and really loved it, you forever remember the feel of it.”
A quirky and suspenseful tale. I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler’s debut novel. It has been likened to Night Circus by many reviewers, but I didn’t find many similarities beyond the carnival/traveling show theme and the slow-paced burn to characters’ unraveling or freedom. Not knowing if that slow burn will ultimately be the main characters’ demise creates interesting tension in the book. If the pace of the plot had been a bit quicker, The Book of Speculation would have been riveting. However, I found the pace weighted down by minutia and detail that could have been edited out without impact to the reader’s understanding of the story. Some readers will find that detail builds suspense for them, but in this case, it had the opposite affect on me. The story is told in dual time periods that converge at the culmination of the story. The current time period’s characters are interesting and quirky. Simon Watson and his younger sister, Enola, are orphaned after their mother’s drowning and father’s subsequent heart attack. Enola’s boyfriend, Doyle, is covered in tattoos of octopi (allegedly a symbol of good luck to Navy men), and he seems to carry an electrical charge. Alice McAvoy grew up next door and is currently Simon’s co-worker and sort-of girlfriend. Her father, Frank, has an unnatural interest in Simon’s house. The historic time period (late 1700’s to early 1800’s) has even more strange characters as those characters are all involved in a traveling carnival-type show. Erika Swyler has incorporated much symbolism into the story. My favorite was Doyle and his octopi tattoos. Those long reaching arms enveloping Simon and his sister in positive energy. Doyle’s body allegedly has too much salt in it, and he is the perfect conduit for electricity. Doyle is the shock Enola & Simon need to break with the past. I'll never look at a horseshoe crab the same again. The simple horseshoe crabs become sinister reapers who come for the cursed. There is a mystical element to the story, but it is primarily about family, history and obligations. The main players in the story are hanging onto relics rich with history and laden with sins of the past. Simon, Enola, Frank and Churchwarry each treasure the relics that are becoming albatrosses. Sometimes ridding yourself of the past is needed to survive. A fresh start can be a good thing. An interesting read filled with oddities, quirk and suspense.
Wonderful, just wonderful