The Swan Gondola: A Novel

( 5 )

Overview

A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair.

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with ...

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The Swan Gondola: A Novel

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Overview

A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair.

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

From the critically acclaimed author of The Coffins of Little Hope, The Swan Gondola is a transporting read, reminiscent of Water for Elephants or The Night Circus.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/02/2013
The latest from Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope) is a love story set during the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair. “Ferret” Skerritt is a ventriloquist who becomes smitten with Cecily, a beauty who comes to town with the fair’s Chamber of Horrors (she plays Marie Antoinette and is beheaded hourly). Deciphering Cecily’s many secrets, including the contents of her mysteriously heavy carpet bag, is just the first challenge Ferret faces in courting her: soon William Wakefield, the fair’s wealthy patron, sees Cecily and decides he wants her for himself. Schaffert’s picture of the fair is enchanting, from the buildings that shimmer with “shattered glass that had been dusted over the whitewash” to the midway attractions, including a theatre where Cecily and Ferret briefly hang from wires and dance in midair. As the two lovers become embroiled with Wakefield, however, the novel loses some of its magic. Additionally, the frequent Wizard of Oz allusions build to nothing. But there are many romantic and historical delights here, and, despite its imperfections, it’s easy to imagine this charming novel attaining Water for Elephants–like popularity with readers. (Feb.)
Library Journal
01/01/2014
Schaffert's fifth novel (after The Coffins of Little Hope) opens with a bang. In autumn 1898, the elderly Egan sisters are enjoying an evening cup of tea in their Nebraska prairie farmhouse when they are jolted out of their chairs by a hot-air balloon crashing on their roof. They rescue Ferret Skerritt from the basket and mend his broken leg. While he recuperates, he tells a fantastic story of his life at the Omaha World's Fair (he is a ventriloquist) and why he stole the balloon. Ferret describes a world of colorful eccentrics, astonishing scientific wonders, and even a visit from President McKinley as he relates his pursuit of the beautiful but elusive Cecily. Cecily is an actress in the Chamber of Horrors, where she gets beheaded four times a day, and he courts her with romantic midnight rides in the swan gondola on the boat lagoon, offering her little except his devotion. Before Ferret can propose, Cecily marries a wealthy businessman to give her daughter Doxie a better life. Undeterred, Ferret plans Cecily's rescue, dreaming of a dignified, respectable life with his beloved. VERDICT With allusions to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, Schaffert has magically transformed a stretch of field near Omaha into a white, shimmering vision of rotundas, columns, and pillars. His magical tale is steeped in late 19th-century history. The stately pace might be too slow for some readers, but fans of historical fiction will not be disappointed. [See Prepub Alert, 8/12/13.]—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Palisade, CO
Library Journal
09/01/2013
As the 1898 Omaha World's Fair prepares to open, ventriloquist Ferret Skerritt falls for actress Cecily. Cecily seems uninterested until they ride together on a swan gondola on the New White City's lagoon. Schaffert's books have been Discover Great New Writers, Indie Next, and New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice picks, so it's time for him to become a household name.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-24
A ventriloquist and actress pursue a rough-and-tumble romance in the shadow of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. Readers meet Ferret Skerritt, narrator of the second novel by Schaffert (Creative Writing and Literature/Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln; The Coffins of Little Hope, 2011), as he accidentally crashes a hot air balloon into the home of two aging sisters. Ferret was heartbroken when he took flight and wounded after landing, but Schaffert plays up the absurdity of the incident in this entertaining if light novel. Flash back a few months earlier: We meet Ferrett as a one-time petty thief who's getting by as a ventriloquist at a vaudeville theater, where he meets (and promptly falls for) Cecily, an actress with an obscure history. Omaha's World's Fair is depicted as a downscale cousin to Chicago's lavish 1893 exposition, but there's still money to be made, and the couple perform on the midway daily (she's Marie Antoinette, her head chopped off over and over daily) before meeting in the swan-shaped gondola of the title. Ferrett wants to get serious with Cecily, who has an infant daughter (the father is absent), but enter William Wakefield, a wealthy fair organizer who wants Cecily for himself. Schaffert captures the grandeur and strangeness of the fair pavilions, as well as the political ferment of the time. (President William McKinley, in the thick of the Spanish-American War, has a cameo.) Despite the novel's widescreen setting, though, the central love story is thin and upended so quickly the reader is challenged to feel invested in Ferrett's and Cecily's fates. And though Schaffert uses fakery as an intriguing theme (ventriloquists, automatons, Spanish-American War propaganda), the closing chapters' would-be ghost story has too much stage makeup to achieve its intended Oz-like effect. A rambunctious and well-researched but ungainly historical romance.
From the Publisher
"In his fifth book, Timothy Schaffert has crafted one of the best novels you’ll read all year. At times gently funny, at times melodramatic, The Swan Gondola sweeps readers up into its considerable charms and does not relinquish them until the final paragraph."—Miami Herald

"Timothy Schaffert has chosen the 1898 World’s Fair in Omaha as the backdrop for his new novel, The Swan Gondola, a highly atmospheric entertainment, full of plot twists, historical flavor and paranormal romance. . . . Beneath the intrigue, mystery and historical window dressings of The Swan Gondola beats the heart of a complicated love story. . . . As a prose stylist, Schaffert leans toward the extravagant without crossing the line into purple. The jaunty Victorian temperament of the prose rings true to the era, as do its thoroughness and attention to detail. . . . This tendency toward expansive description . . . serves to create a palpable atmosphere, imbuing the novel with the glossy cinematic quality of a big-budget Hollywood period piece. . . . Readers who enjoyed Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants or Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus are likely to be captivated by The Swan Gondola."—The Washington Post

“Delightful and enticing.”—Mineapolis Star-Tribune

"A ventriloquist falls for a Marie Antoinette impersonator at the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. The backdrop for his pursuit—aerialist acts, midnight séances—only adds charm to this mythical slice of Americana."—Good Housekeeping

"Set during the 1898 Omaha World's Fair, this novel recreates the few months that Nebraska served as an international capital, complete with lavish temporary palaces and a cast of cynical hucksters, pickpockets and performers who earn their living on the midway. Though the historical details about the fair's construction delight . . . it's the love story of a certain ventriloquist named Ferret Skerritt and an actress named Cecily that captivates, most especially when a wealthy rival to Ferret threatens to separate the two. Be prepared for a romantic finish—and some unexpected twists in the plot that prove magic is possible, even for magicians."—Oprah.com

"“The Swan Gondola” is loud and colorful and larger-than-life. But throughout, Schaffert proves he knows how to find the quiet heart of a scene, of which none are better than the tender moments between August and Ferret, full of the love of friendship and the pain of one-sided romance."—Kansas City Star

"I am a hopeless romantic. And if you’re like me, Timothy Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola may just be the perfect book for you. . . . [It is] a believable, touching and occasionally maddening tale of love, loss, and life afterward. . . . Schaffert’s characters come across as so vivid that I found myself wishing, almost to the point of believing, that Ferret Skerritt were real, if for no other reason than to prove that magic was at one time genuine."—Wichita Eagle

"A ventriloquist in a hot air balloon lifts off from Omaha, Neb., crashes in a strange land, and presides over an emerald cathedral. Yes, it’s The Wizard of Oz. But it’s also the loose construct of Timothy Schaffert’s new novel, The Swan Gondola, which pays tribute to the L. Frank Baum’s classic, yet veers off on its own path of magic and deception. It’s an entertaining and thoroughly researched book, particularly suitable for Americana buffs who want a taste of life in a western frontier town struggling to become a modern city at the turn of the century."—St. Louis Post Dispatch

"Offering an expertly conjured atmosphere complete with soothsayers, cure-all tonics, technologicalgadgetry, and daring high-wire acts, Schaffert’s whimsical epic of illusion and reality at the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair promises and delivers grand entertainment. . . .  Audiences will be lured in by the offbeat personalities and carried along by the unexpected plot developments, but the real showstopper is the exuberant Gilded Age setting, imagined in elaborate detail. With so many wondrous attractions, this finely spun world feels almost dreamlike, yet Schaffert also takes a sharp look at what’s most important in life."—Booklist (starred review)

"The Swan Gondola will no doubt garner comparisons to Water for Elephants and The Night Circus, and fans of such historical romances will not be disappointed. There’s plenty of magic to go around in this good, old-fashioned love story."—Bookpage

“Schaffert’s picture of the fair is enchanting, from the buildings that shimmer with ‘shattered glass that had been dusted over the whitewash’ to the midway attractions, including a theatre where Cecily and Ferret briefly hang from wires and dance in midair. . . . There are many romantic and historical delights here. . . It’s easy to imagine this charming novel attaining Water for Elephants–like popularity with readers.”—Publishers Weekly

"With allusions to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, Schaffert has magically transformed a stretch of field near Omaha into a white, shimmering vision of rotundas, columns, and pillars."—Library Journal

“The Omaha World’s Fair of 1898 comes to gritty, yet magical life in this enchanting new novel, a mystical tale of love, loss and spiritual reincarnation.”—Melanie Benjamin, New York Times–bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife

“A fresh, gorgeous, witty page-turner full of twists and surprises and all the romance in the world. I couldn't put it down.”—Jami Attenberg, New York Times–bestselling author of The Middlesteins

The Swan Gondola is a highly imaginative, vividly told tale of whimsy, hucksters, soothsayers, ghosts and, most of all, star-crossed lovers.”—Cathy Marie Buchanan, bestselling author of The Painted Girls

“Every page of The Swan Gondola shimmers with exquisite detail. Timothy Schaffert has brought a whole universe to life. Reading it, the magic of the day comes alive, complete with seers and balloons, with corsets and lipstick, love letters and the ventriloquism of romance.”—Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamott’s Life in Pictures

“A highly atmospheric entertainment, full of plot twists, historical flavor, and paranormal romance.…Readers who enjoyed Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants or Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus are likely to be captivated by The Swan Gondola.” —The Washington Post

“I am a hopeless romantic. And if you’re like me, [this book] may just be the perfect book for you.…I found myself wishing, almost to the point of believing, that Ferret Skerritt were real, if for no other reason than to prove that magic was at one time genuine.” —Wichita Eagle

“A ventriloquist in a hot air balloon lifts off from Omaha, Neb., crashes in a strange land, and presides over an emerald cathedral. Yes, it’s The Wizard of Oz. But it’s also the loose construct of The Swan Gondola, which pays tribute to L. Frank Baum’s classic, yet veers off on its own path of magic and deception. An entertaining and thoroughly researched book.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594486098
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/6/2014
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 626,007
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Timothy Schaffert grew up on a farm in Nebraska and now lives in Omaha. He is the author of four previous critically acclaimed novels, which have been among Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selections, Indie Next Picks, and New York Times Editor’s Choices. Schaffert teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 7, 2014

    A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against

    A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair.

    On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

    One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

    From the critically acclaimed author of The Coffins of Little Hope, The Swan Gondola is a transporting read, reminiscent of Water for Elephants or The Night Circus.

    -- My thoughts:

    I loved EVERY minute of this book. I stopped and reread sentences and lines, eager for each word, savoring it because it ended way too fast. I loved Ferret. He was a good guy, a little down on his luck. But that seemed like it changed when he met Cecily. I just think everyone should read this book. It is that amazing! I will think about this wonderful read for years to come!

    You start out with Ferret landing at the sister's home, and then we go back, way back to find out why. Why was in he that balloon? I loved the bit of mystery, lots of love, friendship and more in this fabulous book! Read it NOW! You won't be sorry!

    I received this book from Goodreads first read program in exchange for my honest opinion!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 27, 2015

    This is a sweet love story, which is quite enjoyable - as long a

    This is a sweet love story, which is quite enjoyable - as long as you can "suspend disbelief" about some spiritual issues. But due to a couple confusing reviews, I was under the misconception that ¿"Swan Gondola" was mostly a book about the Omaha World's Fair. The fair is actually only a minor character in the background of the love story. I did enjoy being transported to another century and city, and the love story was moving. I also appreciated that it was not overly graphic, and wasn't filled with so many expletives, as some novels are. When all was said and done, I was glad that I read it; the story and characters have stayed in my heart! And in fairness to the author, once you buy the book, there is an interview with him, in which he himself admits it is not truly about the fair per se. He even offers a website for those of us who are World's Fair aficionados. I already have ideas about who should star in the movie. Now if I can just get the Hollywood producers to heed my ideas. ; )

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2014

    Go to 'peepers' first result

    <p>

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2015

    No text was provided for this review.

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