A ravishing first novel set in the vibrant, tumultuous world of turn-of-the-century New York, about four outsiders whose lives become entwined over the course of one fateful night.
New York, 1899. It's late on a warm city night when Sylvan, a night soiler who cleans out the privies behind the tenement houses, pulls a terrible secret out from the filthy hollows: an abandoned newborn baby. An orphan himself, Sylvan can't bring himself to leave the baby in the slop. He tucks her into his chest, resolving to find out where she belongs.
Odile is the girl-on-the-wheel, target for the famed knife thrower, in a show that has long since lost its magic. Odile and her sister Belle were raised in the curtained halls of their mother's spectacular Coney Island sideshow, The Church of Marvels, but the sideshow has burnt to the ground, their mother lies dead in the ashes, and Belle has run away to Manhattan.
Alphie wakes up groggy and confused in Blackwell's Lunatic Asylum. The last thing she remembers is a dark stain on the floor, her mother-in-law screaming. She had once walked the streets as an escort and a penny-Rembrandt, cleaning up men after their drunken brawls. Now she is married, a lady in a reputable home. She is sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband's vile mother, and will do anything to prove her own innocence. But then a young, mute woman is committed alongside her, and when she coughs up a pair of scissors from the depths of her agile throat, a plan is hatched to save them both.
On a single night, these strangers' lives will become irrevocably entwined as secrets come to light and outsiders struggle for acceptance. From the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, from a spectacular sideshow to a desolate asylum, Leslie Parry makes turn-of-the-century New York feel alive, vivid and magical in this luminous debut. In prose as magnetic and lucid as it is detailed, she offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past marked by astonishing feats of narrative that will leave you breathless.