As I type this, the Schlitterbahn Kansas City Waterpark is building a 17-story, 65-mile-an-hour water slide named Verrückt. Depending on your feelings about waterslides, it’s either going to be a blast or 17-story plummet from hell.
Verrückt is German for insane. And let’s be honest: Amusement parks are insane. They’re also the settings for so many wild, terrifying, thrilling, and heartwarming novels. These 6 books about amusement parks are a good way to pass the time between now and Verrückt’s terrifying debut:
Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
Twelve-year-old Ava Swamptree’s mother, Hiliola, is the premier alligator swimmer in the world—and her father, The Chief, is the brilliant mind behind Swamplandia!, an alligator-themed amusement park in the dank and spooky swamps of southern Florida. When her mom dies, Ava begins training to become the world’s youngest alligator wrestler. But one of the many brilliant surprises in Russell’s beautiful novel is that alligators aren’t nearly as dangerous as the people who live among them.
Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn
This book is a completely engrossing fantasy about a hunchback albino dwarf; her brother, who has flippers and gills; and her Siamese-twin sisters. Technically, Geek Love tells the story of a carnival family in which the children have been chemically and genetically engineered to have freakish bodies and supernatural powers. But in actuality, it’s a haunting chronicle of difference, illicit love, and the power of family.
Jurassic Park, by Michael Chrichton
Did you forget that all this Mesozoic fun happened at an amusement park? Me, too. So the point of one man’s totally brilliant (wait, no, I meant absolutely horrible) plan to clone dinosaurs from blood found in mosquitoes preserved by amber was to build an island attraction. YEP. Too bad the island also attracted thieving scientists and tropical storms.
Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
It’s not a novel, but Larson’s account of Doctor Henry Howard Holmes will have you wishing this were fiction. While the ambitious and outlandish plans for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair unfold, Holmes is seducing young women in his death hotel mere miles from the fairgrounds. Chicago at the turn of the century was full of danger and promise, and America itself was younger, more optimistic, and more naïve. One of the best books I read last year, and all the more chilling because the story is true.
The John Ceepak Jersey Shore mysteries, by John Ceepak
The John Ceepak mysteries show us the seedy side of the Jersey Shore, which is refreshing for those who might be leery of all the nostalgia and warm fuzzies that come with books set in classic American amusement parks. The happier a place seems, the deeper its secrets, right? The narrator is a 24-year-old part-time cop named Danny Boyle, but the story’s all about Ceepak, an ex-soldier with plenty of demons. The first book in the series, Tilt-a-Whirl, is everything you’d want from a mystery: a billionaire, a kidnapping, and plenty of Bruce Springsteen references.
Mermaids on the Moon, by Elizabeth Stuckey-French
Who doesn’t secretly wish that mermaids were real? Inspired by the mermaid shows at Weeki Wachee Springs, Stuckey-French’s novel takes place in Mermaid City, home of the Mermaid Springs underwater show. When protagonist France’s mother, a former mermaid, goes missing, France attempts to track her down among the “merhags” from her past.
What world in literature do you wish would be made into an amusement park?