Church of Marvels – Coney Island, NYC – Leslie Parry

church of marvesls

Why a booktrail?

Roll up roll up for what you are about to see will surprise you, shock you and never leave your mind. Are you ready to enter the Church of Marvels…..well, are you?

Story in a nutshell

New York, 1895. The Church of Marvels

The Church of Marvels can be a dangerous place to be. Owned by Friendship Willingbird Church, her two daughters Odile and Belle performed every night. Belle the star of the show as ‘the shape shifter’ and Odile ‘the girl on the wheel’. But now their dreams as well as the sideshow lie in ashes, razed tp the ground. Their mother dead and Belle missing.

Over the water, in Blackwell’s lunatic asylum, Alphie wakes up groggy and confused. How did she get here and why isn’t her husband demanding her release? And just who is that strange girl in the corner who refuses to speak?

Back in the ashes of Coney Island, a young man, Sylvan Threadgill works as a privy cleaner. One night he comes across an abandoned new born baby. Since he is an orphan himself, he takes the baby under his wing and vows to track down its mother.

One night, a lot can happen in the Church of Marvels and a great deal more can happen as a result….

Place and setting

Coney island Where the church of Marvels once stood Black well’s island (Roosevelt island) Located in the East River, Blackwell's Island was renamed Welfare Island in 1921 and Roosevelt Island in 1973. There has been a prison, an insane asylum and hospitals here. and is where we meet Alphine Broome street Where Sylvan finds the baby Ludlow street Sylvan’s home Doyers Street Searching for Belle takes the trail here Orchard and Broome (91 orchard) A significant spot in the novel
Coney Island
Where the church of Marvels once stood
Blackwell’s Island (Roosevelt island)
Located in the East River, Blackwell’s Island was renamed Welfare Island in 1921 and Roosevelt Island in 1973. There has been a prison, an insane asylum and hospitals here. and is where we meet Alphine
Broome street
Where Sylvan finds the baby
Ludlow street
Sylvan’s home
Doyers Street
Searching for Belle takes the trail here
Orchard and Broome (91 orchard)
A significant spot in the novel

Roll up roll up for Turn of the century New York city is the real star of the show. There’s a lot to see here –  a whole host of diverse and fascinating characters, performers in a sideshow, animals, a shape shifter, Georgette, with her extra set of legs; Aldovar, half man/half woman and Leland the “dwarf.”

Coney Island is the place to be – you’ll see the world go by by standing on Coney island.  A place of fun and amusement but dark deeds as we venture behind the glittering facade into the depths of New York City….

From the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded, dirty side streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular sideshow to a desolate asylum, this night will link three very different people together for life. And the animals too, don’t forget these creatures –

“Wherever they glittered in the afterlife – flying among the high rafters of heaven, swimming with her mother in an undersea cave – she hoped the tigers had known it, and roared.”

From Broome Street to Ludlow street –  When Sylvan finds the baby, he takes her home and tries to find the mother,a  journey which takes him into the darkest corners of the city.

The island – This is no time to be a woman for one – Belle is missing, gone on the run into Manhattan and another is imprisoned in an asylum on Blackwell island. Now renamed Roosevelt island, this was the site of the first asyulm in New York. The scenes here are shocking and raw. The treatment of those incarcerated will chill you as it did us. All the more shocking if based on true fact or even just research.

‘The heady stench – horseshit and roasting chestnuts and trash barrels pulsing with maggots.”

Meanwhile, Belle, escapes into the bowels of Manhattan. this is no world for a woman and least of all one trying to escape her past. The trail takes her to many places around Manhattan  – Doyers Street or maybe the weaver on  Cherry Street can help?

These three characters will show you sides of New York that you have never seen before and will never see again. Their world is vibrant yet solemn, colourful and yet dark but utterly compelling.

“For I’ve found that here in this city, the lights burn ever brighter, but they cast the darkest shadows.”

Bookish musings

Loved this! So evocative of a time and place gone by but a fascinating one that you might not want to go to for real for what you might see, but where you will end up anyway when the magic of Coney Island hits you.

The stories which wove in and out of the side streets, the islands and the nooks and crannies of this fascinating place were a real mix which painted and illuminated a picture of New York in times past. a time where you could do and be anything unless if you were a woman it would seem. The scenes in the asylum were difficult to read and very emotional but they provide a shockingly accurate account of what went on.

Not sure what I liked best – story, characters or setting. Spoilt for choice – like being in a real Church of Marvels, I didn’t know where to look first and was captivated until I left.  A literary visit which will linger for a long while to come.

3 thoughts on “Church of Marvels – Coney Island, NYC – Leslie Parry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s