“Our uniqueness alone is enough to justify our special place in the world. But even more, our destiny insists we use our gifts to show others who they really are or show them what, in an ideal world, they could become. It may shock them at first, but deep down, we open their eyes to greater possibilities.”
Bartholomew Fortuno is the thinnest man in the world. Fortuno takes pride in the fact that the outline of his intestines can be seen through the thin layer of skin that covers his bones. He believes that by his very presence in the world, he is changing those who come to see him. One of the many human curiosities in P.T Barnum’s American Museum in New York City during the mid-19th century. He is the exact opposite (of course) of his best friend, a fellow creature in Barnum’s museum, the fattest woman in the world. She is sweet and generous, he is abrupt and rigid. They make an interesting pair and most of the story revolves around the demise of their close friendship.
The museum is also home to a full collection of characters. The strong man, the missing link and the giantess are each a part of Fortuno’s world. It seems to be a relatively quiet, steady world full of stage assignments, customers and routine. Then one night Fortuno leans out his window and spies the arrival of a new act. She is an elegant bearded woman with a secret who entrances Fortuno. In his mindless (seriously, mindless) pursuit of her, he discovers a truth about himself that overturns everything he believes in.
Although we may see the end coming from a long way off, there is plenty of action along the way to keep us interested. Arson, humor, mystery, sex, heartbreak, drugs and betrayal all take part to encourage us to stick close with Fortuno until the end of his story.
If you need a little escape from our everyday hum-drum reality, I think you may enjoy a visit to the world of Ellen Bryson’s human curiosities.