Top critical review
Hard to get through
Reviewed in the United States on December 15, 2014
A novel needs to be many things. It must, above all else, tell a darn good story. The story must be believable enough, no matter what genre it is written in. It must make me want to return to it often enough to get me through the pages in a reasonable amount of time. The characters need not be like able, but I must care what happens to them. And, for me, the author needs to steer clear of platitudes and worn out cliches. If the author covers familiar territory, she has an obligation to bring fresh insights. She needs to tell a story whose ending does not make me wince and write in the notes, "trite," or "truism." The action should not all take place in the last third of the book. Was this a historical romance? Was it a murder mystery? Was it a history of Coney Island and the "freak" shows this author euphemistically calls "wonders"? Was it about the Workmen's Circle, the Triangle Factory fire? She tried all of that, and more. There is a Dickensian cast of characters, some of whom seemed put there salaciously. And of course, all the loose ends are tied up, in surprising and not so surprising ways. Hoffman, afraid her readers would not get her point, goes on at the end, explicating her points about love, as well. She needed to trust her readers more. Ezekiel/Eddie and his father, Coralie and her father were love/hate stories that completed two different circles, then there was Maureen and the Wolfman, the hermit in the woods, the creature in the Hudson, the one-armed lion tamer, another great fire. Sounds like a great read, right? Yet, I had to force myself to read a certain amount each day to be certain I would finish in time to discuss at book club. In the end, most of it seemed contrived. Hoffman got lazy and explained where she should have hinted.