Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Musings: The Wonder Show

This book is The Night Circus without the magical realism or Water for Elephants without the tragedy. It's the story of a young girl, Portia, who runs away from an orphan's home to work for a freak show at a carnival. Portia has an interesting story, but what interested me more was the freak show and the history it implies. The book is set in 1939, and it shocked me for a bit that the freak show was around that late.

Part of me is immediately against the thought of people--most of whom would be considered to have disabilities today--being on display. I'm generally pretty anti-staring (see my post The Gaze) but in a way, I've done it. I've been a guinea pig for doctors. And the "freaks" in the novel joined the show by choice, unlike some of their historical counterparts. Additionally, there's a camaraderie between them that I associate with the disability groups I'm a part of. The people in the show are supporting themselves, choosing to exploit a condition they can't control. It's liberating in a way some people with disabilities don't get to experience these days--of course they also have more chances to get typical jobs.

Reading the book, I wondered if I'd be strong enough to do the same thing. (Again, I'm pretty anti-stare). You'd get to travel, though maybe not to very interesting places. I'm glad the idea of people with disabilities being display pieces is generally gone along with the Ugly Laws, but as for as historical perspectives go, The Wonder Show puts a positive spin on a potentially controversial subject. 


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