“Church of Marvels” is a book of secrets and surprises. Author Leslie Parry, an alum of the Writers’ Workshop, illuminates each enigma at the perfect moment and to devastating effect. Her debut novel is, in fact, a marvel.
It is also difficult to summarize without revealing too much. Parry’s story centers on a collection of characters — sisters who grew up as part of a sideshow on Coney Island, a man who cleans privies and fights for money, a woman who finds herself in an asylum and slowly regains her memory of what happened — struggling to build a life in New York City in 1895. Each is an outsider, but the arc of the story brings them together in unexpected and resonant ways.
While the structure of the book is complex, Parry is careful to bring the reader along, crafting her story to intrigue rather than to frustrate. She blends the physical and psychological in a number of ways, as when Odile descends below the streets of the city in search of her sister:
“As they wound deeper and deeper into the black lung of earth, Odile started at the lantern, trying to see beyond the shadow, but her vision began doubling and tripling until it seemed there were a dozen lanterns dancing about her head, brilliant as the electric canopy at Coney Island.
“This, she thought briefly, might be Belle’s greatest act. Perhaps by now she had transcended herself entirely. Perhaps she had shifted into something else — not a shape anymore, not even a body. Perhaps she had turned into the light itself.”
This book should establish Parry as a bright light. I hope that light attracts many readers to “Church of Marvels.”