Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Swan Gondola

The Swan Gondola
Timothy Schaffert
Riverhead Books
Penguin Books
New York, New York
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-59463-343-0
$ 16.00
456 pages

A hot-air balloon has just crashed into a farmhouse on the lonely Nebraska prairie begins the adventure in the unconventional tale by a local author called The Swan Gondola. The unintended pilot, Ferret Skerritt tells of the circumstances of 1898 Omaha World's Fair and his escapades to the two elderly spinsters who reside at this home, Emmaline and Hester. Their home was the unfortunate landing spot for this stolen hot-air balloon.

With a taste of Baum's The Wizard of Oz, this tale begins to unwind as a storyteller slowly reveals each layer of this unconventional adventure.

Ferret Skerritt is a ventriloquist/pickpocket. He earns money as a wandering artist attaching himself to various traveling productions. With friends who possess a multitude of bizarre talents both natural and learned, many of his motley crew of friends prove that descriptions and appearances can be deceptive.

Love at first sight does exist for Ferret and he is immediately smitten and obsessed by the beautiful actress who is part of a traveling company. He must meet this elusive, but charismatic woman. Like many who have this ability, she has a secret that is kept in her traveling carpetbag.

The Swan Gondola tours the fair through Ferrit. Fortunately throughout the book, the reader is privileged to attend the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. Chicago had been the host city of a previous world fair but Omaha was not established and respected. The city was still young and more often than not, resembled a Wild West Show. Many early business wanted to attract the world to this new city and financed this fair in their investment of the future. This entire fair complete with a lagoon in the northern part of east Omaha was meant to be completely temporary to display the world's best, newest, and most modern attractions.

The story is told by Ferret who is not always honest or likeable. The perspective is through Ferret's eyes and his eyes see things that most of us would never notice. He observes pickpockets and the light criminal side.

How can Ferret attract Cecily to fall in love with him? He arranges for their first true date in the swan gondola on the lagoon after the fair closes for the day. This tale of history and adventure is full of surprises and twists with unique characters that are visually realistic.

The author, Timothy Schaffert is a Nebraska native, currently residing in Omaha while teaching writing and literature at the University of Nebraska located in Lincoln. The Swan Gondola is his fifth novel following The Coffins of Little Hope, The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters, Devils in the Sugar Shop, and The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God.

Who would enjoy this book? The Swan Gondola is for those readers who appreciate well-researched historical fiction in an unusual tale.

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