SDR Book of the Week: The Swan Gondola, by Timothy Schaffert
The Swan Gondola, by Timothy Schaffert. Riverhead, 464 pp.
Sometimes I start to get into a book and I really love it, for the first half. This was the case with Timothy Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola. Written in loosely the same thread as Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants (which I loved), I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship as it played out on the page.
Ferrit Skerritt is a ventriloquist, who travels around with his doll attached like a cape around his neck and trailing down his back. He’s also a con man, and he sees the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair as an opportunity to capitalize on both his talents.
Cecily is an actress whom Ferrit meets first at an impromptu performance before the fair begins. She’s a part of a traveling show, and he follows their caravan until he finds her again at the Chamber of Horrors in the midway. She spends every evening playing Marie Antoinette at the moment she loses her head.
Cecily and Ferrit have an unusual, and whirlwind, romance. I enjoyed their back-and-forth. But their relationship is cut short halfway through the novel, and at this point I paged through the rest of the pages wondering how Schaffert was going to continue this love story for an extra several hundred pages without one of the two key players.
It was a little strange, I’ll admit. At the beginning of the novel, I didn’t really like Ferrit. He seemed a little obsessive to me, someone too concentrated on getting what he wants, especially when he wants is someone who may not necessarily want him in return. I think I grew to like him because I liked her. And after they’re parted, I saw Ferrit revert back to his obsessive self. He cannot let her go, and he probably should have.
The story ended nicely, in a way I halfway predicted, but I still enjoyed it. And I also enjoyed the backdrop of the Omaha World’s Fair. Here in northwest Iowa, we’re infiltrated each year by the Clay County Fair, and I was able to relate a little. It was really interesting. But The Swan Gondola could probably have been a few hundred pages shorter and still been a good book, perhaps even a better one.