THE ELECTRIC WOMAN by Tessa Fontaine


A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts
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A writer performs in a traveling sideshow tour after spending three years with her mother as she endured a series of debilitating strokes.

In her debut memoir, Fontaine explores the power of the mother-daughter bond and the resiliency and marvel of the human body under duress. In October 2010, the author’s mother suffered the first of several strokes. She was left severely incapacitated and in the care of her husband, Fontaine’s stepfather. Yet in the summer of 2013, at great risk to her health, they set off together for an ambitious trip to Italy, refusing to give in to her physical limitations. On a whim, the author set off on her own adventure, signing on as a carnival performer in America’s last traveling sideshow, the World of Wonders. For the next 150 days, she tested her physical endurance and deeply ingrained fears, acquiring skills as a fire eater, snake charmer, and escape artist, among other sideshow feats, and investigating the unique culture and often grueling realities of carnival life. Fontaine is a graceful writer, and her story initially shows great promise as she seamlessly weaves together a chronicle of her often bizarre carnival experiences with poignant memories of her mother before and after her illness. But as the narrative segues into a lengthy day-to-day account of her experiences on the tour, it becomes less urgently involved with her connection to her mother and reads more like a journalistic reporting exercise. Though the author is careful to recount her dedicated immersion within this world, there’s an emotional detachment that grows more evident in her encounters with the individuals who inhabit this space. After several weeks on the tour, as the wonders begin to grow thin and somewhat repetitive, the story loses momentum. Though her tale eventually leads to a moving and satisfying conclusion, the journey is unnecessarily arduous.

A sometimes-engrossing but overlong memoir about carnival life and family bonds.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-374-15837-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2018


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