This is my second to last read for the MadLibs 2018 reading challenge that I was supposed to finish officially back in June, but whatever, there’s still some time left in the year.
The Book of Speculation tells a story across generations of Simon, the protagonist’s, family. His is a family of circus performers, but more than that, one of “dangerous” women who suffer from undiagnosed mental illness.
When a man named Churchwarry, a book collector, sends Simon a mysterious book that is somehow connected to his family, Simon finds himself obsessed with the discovery that all the women in his family have drowned on the same day. Truly, a mystery as all these women were “mermaids.” They were carnival performers who swam in tanks on display because they could hold their breath for an inordinate amount of time, a talent Simon and his sister have inherited.
When his sister Enola, who works the circuit as a Tarot card reader, comes home frazzled and displaying acute anxiety, and the date of July 24th approaches, Simon becomes desperate to break the curse that already took his mother, and in turn, his father.
The entire time I read this book, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Big Fish. Perhaps it was the cast of circus characters that I found a connection to, but I think it was more than that. It was how much like the protagonist in that movie, Simon tried to stay removed from his family’s history but found himself nearly drowned in it until he stopped resisting.
There’s also the element of magical realism that felt like the two stories were connected. In fact, if this book were ever made into a movie or Netflix series, I could see it having much the same directorial qualities as Big Fish. As the story delves back and forth between past and present, slowly unraveling the twisted web created by generations of lies and secrets, I found myself enthralled and engaged in the mystery of this family, spanning across Vissers, Rhyzkovas, Peabodys, and more.
I think what was also so striking, especially toward the end, is how artifacts and history can have such a strong pull that even generations and various degrees of separation later, certain bloodlines and people can still find their way back to each other. It left me wondering if the curse and magic were real, or if it was all just a matter of chance and coincidence. Although the book falls pretty firmly on the magic side of this thought, it still leaves it just vague enough to let the readers decide for themselves.
Who else has read this book? What are your thoughts and feelings on this story? Let me know in the comments!