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A daughter’s astonishing memoir of pushing past fear, through life in a traveling sideshow and her mother’s illness Turns out, one lesson applies to living through illness, keeping the show on the road, letting go of the person you love most, and eating fire: The trick is there is no trick. You eat fire by eating fire. Two journeys—a daughter’s and a mother’s—bear witness to A daughter’s astonishing memoir of pushing past fear, through life in a traveling sideshow and her mother’s illness Turns out, one lesson applies to living through illness, keeping the show on the road, letting go of the person you love most, and eating fire: The trick is there is no trick. You eat fire by eating fire. Two journeys—a daughter’s and a mother’s—bear witness to this lesson in The Electric Woman. For three years Tessa Fontaine lived in a constant state of emergency as her mother battled stroke after stroke. But hospitals, wheelchairs, and loss of language couldn’t hold back such a woman; she and her husband would see Italy together, come what may. Thus Fontaine became free to follow her own piper, a literal giant inviting her to “come play” in the World of Wonders, America’s last traveling sideshow. How could she resist? Transformed into an escape artist, a snake charmer, and a high-voltage Electra, Fontaine witnessed the marvels of carnival life: intense camaraderie and heartbreak, the guilty thrill of hard-earned cash exchanged for a peek into the impossible, and, most marvelous of all, the stories carnival folks tell about themselves. Through these, Fontaine trained her body to ignore fear and learned how to keep her heart open in the face of loss. A story for anyone who has ever imagined running away with the circus, wanted to be someone else, or wanted a loved one to live forever, The Electric Woman is ultimately about death-defying acts of all kinds, especially that ever constant: good old-fashioned unconditional love.


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A daughter’s astonishing memoir of pushing past fear, through life in a traveling sideshow and her mother’s illness Turns out, one lesson applies to living through illness, keeping the show on the road, letting go of the person you love most, and eating fire: The trick is there is no trick. You eat fire by eating fire. Two journeys—a daughter’s and a mother’s—bear witness to A daughter’s astonishing memoir of pushing past fear, through life in a traveling sideshow and her mother’s illness Turns out, one lesson applies to living through illness, keeping the show on the road, letting go of the person you love most, and eating fire: The trick is there is no trick. You eat fire by eating fire. Two journeys—a daughter’s and a mother’s—bear witness to this lesson in The Electric Woman. For three years Tessa Fontaine lived in a constant state of emergency as her mother battled stroke after stroke. But hospitals, wheelchairs, and loss of language couldn’t hold back such a woman; she and her husband would see Italy together, come what may. Thus Fontaine became free to follow her own piper, a literal giant inviting her to “come play” in the World of Wonders, America’s last traveling sideshow. How could she resist? Transformed into an escape artist, a snake charmer, and a high-voltage Electra, Fontaine witnessed the marvels of carnival life: intense camaraderie and heartbreak, the guilty thrill of hard-earned cash exchanged for a peek into the impossible, and, most marvelous of all, the stories carnival folks tell about themselves. Through these, Fontaine trained her body to ignore fear and learned how to keep her heart open in the face of loss. A story for anyone who has ever imagined running away with the circus, wanted to be someone else, or wanted a loved one to live forever, The Electric Woman is ultimately about death-defying acts of all kinds, especially that ever constant: good old-fashioned unconditional love.

30 review for The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts

  1. 4 out of 5

    *TUDOR^QUEEN*

    I received an advance reader copy from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux via NetGalley. Tessa Fontaine was 30 when she was invited for a 5-month stint with America's last traveling sideshow, the World of Wonders. She started as a bally girl (someone that lures people to buy tickets for the show), then progressed to snake handling, handcuff escape, and fire eating. But her education in the sideshow arts did not end there. She performed the illusion of a 4-legged lady and what she considered her I received an advance reader copy from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux via NetGalley. Tessa Fontaine was 30 when she was invited for a 5-month stint with America's last traveling sideshow, the World of Wonders. She started as a bally girl (someone that lures people to buy tickets for the show), then progressed to snake handling, handcuff escape, and fire eating. But her education in the sideshow arts did not end there. She performed the illusion of a 4-legged lady and what she considered her ultimate triumph...as the Electric Lady. For this she sat in an electric chair and lit up light bulbs with her tongue! She also practiced sword swallowing using a twisted up hanger, but this challenge proved insurmountable. This unique and all-consuming experience (sideshow artists get very little sleep) was a parallel story to that of her mother Teresa recovering from a hemorrhagic stroke. Tessa's parents were divorced when she was a toddler, but her mother remarried a man named Davy who loved her absolutely. While others essentially gave up hope for Teresa's recovery, Davy could not fathom life without her. Not only did he nurture his ailing wife in every way possible, but against all rationale took her on a dream trip to Italy. Tessa struggles with guilt from once telling her Mom she didn't love her, and not being around for her rehabilitation as much as she could be. Signing on with the traveling sideshow was a thrill, a challenge, and a means of escapism. I do enjoy reading about carnivals and sideshows. They are mysterious, magical and yes...a form of escapism. I think of the colorful striped circus tents, flashing bulbs and various oddities to be found there. It was interesting to read about how these traveling performers withstand extreme weather conditions, sleeping arrangements, ability to shower/toilet, and set up and break down their shows. In fact, inside the big trailer where they bunk at night and basically live, if someone cannot withstand the life, their name is immortalized on the wall with the moniker " couldn't hack it." While I enjoyed the peek inside the inner workings of a traveling sideshow, I wasn't as interested when Tessa waxed poetic about her mother's illness in tandem. I also felt she could have edited the book down a bit more. Sometimes less is more!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    3.5 stars Many years ago, my aunt married a carnival mechanic. The marriage didn’t last long but while they were together I was given the opportunity to work at the carnival. As a 13-year-old getting unsupervised time in a carnival felt like an amazing gift even if it meant working in one of those lame Feed the Ducks booths. Each night once the place has officially closed, temp staff like myself could ride the scariest ride for as long as they wanted. I loved every second. So, when I saw this memoi 3.5 stars Many years ago, my aunt married a carnival mechanic. The marriage didn’t last long but while they were together I was given the opportunity to work at the carnival. As a 13-year-old getting unsupervised time in a carnival felt like an amazing gift even if it meant working in one of those lame Feed the Ducks booths. Each night once the place has officially closed, temp staff like myself could ride the scariest ride for as long as they wanted. I loved every second. So, when I saw this memoir of a young woman and her time as a side show performer with World of Wonders I just had to read it. From fire eating, snake charming and card tricks to finally getting to perform the creme de la crème of acts, Electra the Electric Woman, Tessa steadily worked her way up the ranks of side show attractions during her one season with World of Wonders. Gruelling 16-hour days, hard physical labour, uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, overflowing porta loos and much more had to be endured with a smile on her face and a trick up her sleeve. Alongside Tessa’s 5 months with World of Wonders, is the story of her mother’s battle with severe strokes and health complications 2 years earlier. Anyone who has had a sick parent will be able to relate to some of what she went through. Writing about her mother’s debilitating illness was clearly cathartic for the Tessa yet these sections never captured my attention as much as her carnival stories. There were also times where the story felt a bit all over the place with jumpy timelines making the reading feel disjointed. But overall this was a solid memoir, and a very interesting peek behind the curtain of carnival performers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I have to admit that when I won this book in a giveaway, I was not sure if I would like it. I put off reading it, but then I opened it and I was hooked. Tessa Fontaine runs away from her problems and joins the circus; well, not quite. Tessa becomes intrigued by the sideshows that perform as part of state and area fairs. After interviewing performers and owner's, she is invited by the owner of "World of Wonders" to join up for a season and live the life. Frankly, it is a challenge beyond what most I have to admit that when I won this book in a giveaway, I was not sure if I would like it. I put off reading it, but then I opened it and I was hooked. Tessa Fontaine runs away from her problems and joins the circus; well, not quite. Tessa becomes intrigued by the sideshows that perform as part of state and area fairs. After interviewing performers and owner's, she is invited by the owner of "World of Wonders" to join up for a season and live the life. Frankly, it is a challenge beyond what most people could negotiate. The hours are incredibly long, with the entertainers performing the same act 20 or more times a day, full of hazards, hard labor of putting the tents and equipment up at each location then tearing it down, the pay is abysmal and the living conditions are comparable to living in some 3rd world countries and yet, it seems there are people that can't live without performing each season, which lasts nearly 6 months per year. Tessa's mother, Teresa had been a water acrobat in her youth and the thrill of performing gave birth to this craving to experience celebrity in Tessa. Juxtaposed with stories of learning new feats for the show, Tessa talks about the tremendous toll a recent strokes have had on her mother. Yet, despite the doctors prognosis of death, her mother overcomes tremendous obstacles, relearning how to eat and to stand. However, she never regains full function on her right side nor able to perform basic hygiene and her speech is limited to say "Na Na Na", which the somehow conveys much more than most would anticipate. Tessa's stepfather, Dave is wholly committed to his wife's care and survival and decides that they will take the trip to Rome just they always planned despite the wheelchair. Due to money restraints, they travel across America from California by train to New York City, then take a ship to Italy. Tessa is fraught with worry that something will go wrong and her mother will die during the journey while Tessa is on the road. Meanwhile, Tessa learns to endure holding a boa constrictor all day as a carnival barker(bally is the technical term) whose job it is to entice patrons to pay to watch the show under the big top. Later she plays with fire by eating it. She doggedly attempts to learn sword swallowing but never masters it. Towards the end of the trip, she becomes the electric woman! While sitting in a chair, she conducts electricity through her body enabling her to turn on a light bulb held in her mouth. However, the story is much more about the lifestyle of the performers, they sleep on tiny bunk beds within an 18 wheeler without air conditioning; and not all places they stop at even have shower facilities and those that do are often filthy (I'm sure the descriptions don't do the real experience justice). Due to scheduling and time restraints, there is infrequent access to bathrooms, so performers learn to drink little and either pee in a container, or behind the truck (women too)! Clean clothes are a luxury, as the performers usually wash their clothing while showering. Then hang them on a nail next to their bed overnight. Privacy doesn't exist and sometimes the tensions boil over into fights (which were mentioned but heavily edited). Everyone is expected to work hard even despite any physical limitations from recent injuries. Just reading about how labor intensive the work is mind boggling. I have a new respect for those who commit to this lifestyle. There is a sense of comradery, of being a part of something bigger almost a family atmosphere exists and yet, when she departs she is saddened because she realizes that these relationships won't continue. Ms. Fontaine is a gifted story teller. Her descriptions are vivid and you feel like you are watching the show. Her experience matures her in many ways but most obviously clarifies for her the depth of her love for her mother. She sees how much she took for granted and the annoyance she had because her mother was a unique individual is now what she values most in her.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for my review. Two years after her mother experiences a devastating stroke and is still severely disabled, the author’s parents decide to take a trip to Italy. The author decides to spend a season with a traveling sideshow to take her mind off her grief and worry. The work is grueling and she has to be fearless to learn the acts. Fascinating look behind the scenes and at the lives of the people who work the shows. Stellar writing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Keith Beasley-Topliffe

    Fascinating. Tessa Fontaine, a young woman (with an MFA in literature) joins World of Wonders, the last traveling sideshow, for their 2013 season--150 days of long hours, hard work, and performing as a bally girl (outside the show, helping lure customers inside with fire eating and such), a talker (providing a running commentary on some of the inside acts), and a performer (the headless woman, the four-legged woman, and ultimately as the electric woman). This story is interwoven with the story o Fascinating. Tessa Fontaine, a young woman (with an MFA in literature) joins World of Wonders, the last traveling sideshow, for their 2013 season--150 days of long hours, hard work, and performing as a bally girl (outside the show, helping lure customers inside with fire eating and such), a talker (providing a running commentary on some of the inside acts), and a performer (the headless woman, the four-legged woman, and ultimately as the electric woman). This story is interwoven with the story of her mother's stroke several months before World of Wonders and the long, slow, recovery punctuated by many crises. The backstage stuff (living in a trailer, mid-night trips to Walmart, interactions between the show people (like her) and the carnies who run the games, food, and rides) is nearly as interesting as her quest to learn everything possible in her time with the show. Her portraits of her fellow performers are sharp and sympathetic. I don't want to say more, because much of the fun is in following Tessa's journey (even if that drove me to searching YouTube to see some of the folks she worked with). I received this book through NetGalley in return for writing a review of an uncorrected digital galley. The publication date is May 1st.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    This is a beautifully written personal story about facing one's fear while going through parent's illness and joining a traveling sideshow. You may think both stories don't intertwine but they do. Ms. Fontaine goes back and back forth with her story by sharing how both worlds struggle with not just finding acceptance but how to go through their world without being "a sideshow" by other people's perception. In all this, Ms. Fontaine goes back forth with her own feelings of not being there for her This is a beautifully written personal story about facing one's fear while going through parent's illness and joining a traveling sideshow. You may think both stories don't intertwine but they do. Ms. Fontaine goes back and back forth with her story by sharing how both worlds struggle with not just finding acceptance but how to go through their world without being "a sideshow" by other people's perception. In all this, Ms. Fontaine goes back forth with her own feelings of not being there for her mom and her constant worry of doing her job right and finding acceptance from her peers. I received this book from NetGalley and the publisher for an honest review. #NetGalley #TheElectricWoman

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

    Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book. After her mother suffers from a debilitating stroke, Tessa decides joins a traveling sideshow. The story nicely parallels her mother's story of progress with Tessa's time in the World of Wonders. I could almost smell the stench of sweat and feel the author's tired muscles as she worked tirelessly for the show. This book was a mesmerizing look into the world of freak shows and carnival life as well as a lovely story of what some of u Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book. After her mother suffers from a debilitating stroke, Tessa decides joins a traveling sideshow. The story nicely parallels her mother's story of progress with Tessa's time in the World of Wonders. I could almost smell the stench of sweat and feel the author's tired muscles as she worked tirelessly for the show. This book was a mesmerizing look into the world of freak shows and carnival life as well as a lovely story of what some of us will go through to overcome pain and loss.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amy Morgan

    Thank you Edelweiss for my review copy of this book. I absolutely loved reading this story. The author presents a good balance of her life before and during her time with the sideshow. She has a great grasp on the peopke around her and really makes you feel a part of whst she was experiencing. Brave, honest and adventurous this was an excellent read!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    I just finished the best memoir I've read in years -- TheElectric Woman by Tessa Fontaine. It’s about a young woman who literally leaves the difficulties of her life behind to join the circus as a performer. She works as a snake charmer, fire eater, and ultimately as the woman who withstands the electricity in the electric chair. Half the book is her adventures with the circus and the people she meets. The other half is her reflections back on her mother who had a massive stroke and the seeming I just finished the best memoir I've read in years -- TheElectric Woman by Tessa Fontaine. It’s about a young woman who literally leaves the difficulties of her life behind to join the circus as a performer. She works as a snake charmer, fire eater, and ultimately as the woman who withstands the electricity in the electric chair. Half the book is her adventures with the circus and the people she meets. The other half is her reflections back on her mother who had a massive stroke and the seemingly impossible road to any meaningful recovery. It’s at once funny, jaw dropping, and poignant. She’s an amazing storyteller, and read her own audiobook, which was fabulous! This was one of the most life affirming books I’ve read in years. Totally riveting and engaging. This is coming from someone who is typically not enthusiastic about nonfiction.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    Usually I find memoirs by white women exhausting. Their fish-out-of-water stories strike me as exploitative, both of the reader and the people they encounter on their journeys to (insert eyeroll here) self-discovery. Tessa wasn't born into the sideshow world, and while she only lives in it for 5 months, she writes about it with honesty, humor, and heart. She wants you to believe all of it too—the sweat, tears, and snot that go into making the magic. And the way she intertwines scenes from the fa Usually I find memoirs by white women exhausting. Their fish-out-of-water stories strike me as exploitative, both of the reader and the people they encounter on their journeys to (insert eyeroll here) self-discovery. Tessa wasn't born into the sideshow world, and while she only lives in it for 5 months, she writes about it with honesty, humor, and heart. She wants you to believe all of it too—the sweat, tears, and snot that go into making the magic. And the way she intertwines scenes from the fairgrounds with those from her mother's hospital room? Mesmerizing.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie Brody

    When I was a child of a certain age, my favorite book was Toby Tyler. He was a young boy who joined the circus. I thought that was the neatest thing. In 'The Electric Woman', Tessa Fontaine, a grown woman, decides to join a real carnival, specifically their side show. She tells them she is able to eat fire and perform other acts that she is unable to do. "Sideshows are where people come to see public displays of their private fears: of deformity, of disruption in the perceived gender binary, of When I was a child of a certain age, my favorite book was Toby Tyler. He was a young boy who joined the circus. I thought that was the neatest thing. In 'The Electric Woman', Tessa Fontaine, a grown woman, decides to join a real carnival, specifically their side show. She tells them she is able to eat fire and perform other acts that she is unable to do. "Sideshows are where people come to see public displays of their private fears: of deformity, of disruption in the perceived gender binary, of mutation, of disfigurement, of a crossover with the animal world, of being out of proportion. And that is the sideshow's intention - to frame whoever or whatever is on display as being outside the realm of what's "normal". " I remember going to side shows as a child. Even the Ringling Brothers had one. The experience was frightening, amazing, and each year it was my favorite part of the circus. This book is about Tessa's inner and outer odyssey as she travels with her caravan. Interspersed with her experiences with the circus, are her feelings about her family, especially her mother who is very ill. Tessa's mother had a stroke a few years ago and has suffered one setback after another. For most of the book it is questionable whether she will live or die, what her cognitive abilities are, and what quality of life she is experiencing. Perhaps it's me, but I found it very difficult to connect with this book. I never really understood why Tessa wanted to join a side show and how her analogy between her experiences there connected with her mother's life. I found Tessa's writing to be very superficial and wanted a deeper and more intimate portrait of herself and her mother.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda Lomazow

    So so good a look at Carnie life family relations.Tessa Fontaine story kept me turning the pages.#netgalley #fsg

  13. 4 out of 5

    Shannon Dyer

    A fascinating look at carnival life.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kasia

    This one was just okay for me. I felt like it badly needed an editor, for one, and the parts about her mother never really coalesced with the rest of the narrative. I felt like I never really connected with the author and her motivations, and I never got the feeling she was really giving an inside look at the performers she worked with in the sideshow. Often her perspective came across rather patronizing of them, like she was just collecting experiences to write about later from her safe middle- This one was just okay for me. I felt like it badly needed an editor, for one, and the parts about her mother never really coalesced with the rest of the narrative. I felt like I never really connected with the author and her motivations, and I never got the feeling she was really giving an inside look at the performers she worked with in the sideshow. Often her perspective came across rather patronizing of them, like she was just collecting experiences to write about later from her safe middle-class life. Many of the stories from the carnival were interesting, though, hence the 3 stars. I'd like to read about it from someone else's perspective, like Tommy or Spif or Cassie.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Tessa Fontaine has a very good writing style and really makes the two story lines of her mom’s illness and her summer with the traveling side-show come alive. I don’t quite agree with how she laid out the timeline of the book - there are a few places where it seems she jumps back and forth unnecessarily in time - but it is really interesting.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-April. This is the autobiography of Fontaine, a female sideshow performer who, for a total of 150 days, learns skills (such as fire-breathing, snakecharming, escaping from handcuffs, sleight of hand magic tricks, sword swallowing), faces fears, and invites risk after her mother experiences symptoms of a stroke related to brain hemorrhage.  She performs at state and county fairs as a ballyhoo girl alongside the barke The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-April. This is the autobiography of Fontaine, a female sideshow performer who, for a total of 150 days, learns skills (such as fire-breathing, snakecharming, escaping from handcuffs, sleight of hand magic tricks, sword swallowing), faces fears, and invites risk after her mother experiences symptoms of a stroke related to brain hemorrhage.  She performs at state and county fairs as a ballyhoo girl alongside the barker (apparently, my home state Minnesota State Fair is considered a 'grinder'), and she describes the trail mix of personalities in her coworkers amid flashbacks to the imaginative hippie awesomeness that is her mom during her childhood, who introduces her and her brother to diverse, worldly things.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Trina

    I really ENJOYED this book, for all the reasons most of us would: the "freak" show, the last travelling sideshow in the US, state fairs in blistering heat, scary feats of daring, snakes, knives, menacing carnies, etc. There were some great characters among her own crew. But I ADMIRE this book mainly because of Fontaine's courage in facing her fears that she's a bad daughter, a cranky and cruel person, and an inconstant help for her severely, suddenly, disabled mother. It caused me to think of my I really ENJOYED this book, for all the reasons most of us would: the "freak" show, the last travelling sideshow in the US, state fairs in blistering heat, scary feats of daring, snakes, knives, menacing carnies, etc. There were some great characters among her own crew. But I ADMIRE this book mainly because of Fontaine's courage in facing her fears that she's a bad daughter, a cranky and cruel person, and an inconstant help for her severely, suddenly, disabled mother. It caused me to think of my own mother's decline and death, and my clashing feelings of fear, relief and grief. I also admired the author's growing understanding that her mother LIVED until she died despite her disabilities.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Watkins

    Tessa Fontaine is a brave woman: a snake handler, a fire breather, a daughter who is losing her mother to a massive brain injury. Her memoir of her time traveling for a season as a performer in the last traveling sideshow is more than a documentary of freak show. It is the story of a daughter coming to terms with the woman her mother was and it’s so beautifully written. Highly recommend.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Traver cashen

    Fantastic read. Well written with some very colorful characters. I was engrossed from start to finish. This is about Teresa's mothers struggles while getting better after a stroke and about Tessa being in a Carnival. I voluntarily read and reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from Netgalley

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marybeth Taranow

    I requested this book because I love anything related to freak shows and carnivals. This did not disappoint. This was full of self discovery, strength and healing. I will recommend this book highly and will purchasing a physical copy as well.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bob Carleson

    The trick is, There is no trick. Sage words coming from the author as she plunges into an unknowable world of a side show of all things. Why a side show we ask. The only thing comes to mind has to do with adrenaline rush and exploring a curious new world. Ms. Fontaine took us on a nervous (for me, as hollywood had me preparing for disaster at every moment) knife box, sword swallowing trip working with people who appear threatening at first. Come to find out, with the author's help, carnies are g The trick is, There is no trick. Sage words coming from the author as she plunges into an unknowable world of a side show of all things. Why a side show we ask. The only thing comes to mind has to do with adrenaline rush and exploring a curious new world. Ms. Fontaine took us on a nervous (for me, as hollywood had me preparing for disaster at every moment) knife box, sword swallowing trip working with people who appear threatening at first. Come to find out, with the author's help, carnies are good at their skills, surrounded by a community of like minded folks, and do ok in their world/career which is not like ours. The job is the job and not too different from the ones we work in. Tessa's Mother's stroke and subsequent care needs would have stopped most of us in our tracks but she continually moves forward through this tragedy by frankly and honestly addressing her needs to address the grief. A great story well told is a favorite saying for me when an artist performs his or her art as it should be performed. Thank you Ms. Fonatine. "The trick is there is not trick."

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark Jobs

    Loved this book! Tessa Fontaine gives you a glimpse into the rarely seen world of a traveling carnival show, while paralleling an ongoing traumatic family struggle. Gritty and glamorous, heart breaking and heart warming, funny and frightening; Fontaine takes you up and down through this memoir. What is fact and what is fiction in a world of headless women and sword swallowers? The Electric Woman is a must read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dave Harris

    What a wonderful book! Ms Fontaine joins the last traveling U.S. sideshow. She explores the closed society of the "carney" and is faced with the contrast between the performer’s confrontation of stage danger and the display of real life bravery by her Mother. This is a sensitive treatment of extremes, dreams and regrets.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kayo

    A fun and exciting look at the carnie life. Loved the relationship with her parents. Thanks to author, publisher and NetGalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free, it had no bearing on the rating I gave it

  25. 4 out of 5

    Diane Yannick

    This debut memoir was an interesting read. I once knew a young, ‘retired’ carnie couple and ever since hearing their stories I’ve been super interested in circus/carnival life. I remember at the DE State Fair they used to have freak shows (yep, that’s what they were called) but I was always too afraid to go in. I figured I might encounter an unexpected sight that would be forever etched in my memory. What makes this book special is the way the author artfully connected two very different stories This debut memoir was an interesting read. I once knew a young, ‘retired’ carnie couple and ever since hearing their stories I’ve been super interested in circus/carnival life. I remember at the DE State Fair they used to have freak shows (yep, that’s what they were called) but I was always too afraid to go in. I figured I might encounter an unexpected sight that would be forever etched in my memory. What makes this book special is the way the author artfully connected two very different stories. Her mother, the one who always said ‘yes’, suffered a series of debilitating strokes. Tessa turned her fear of losing her mother (and their imperfect relationship) into an opportunity to say ‘yes’. She could not control her mom’s progress or her stepdad’s decision to take her on a medically risky trip to Italy, but she could control her next move. She joined the last traveling side show, World of Wonders. Interestingly, she lied about her skills in order to join which takes a lot of nerve. “Oh sure, I can handle snakes and swallow fire.” Who says that? Tessa, and she figures out how to get jump into the action. The scene when the boa got tangled in her hair was scary yet amusing. Sword swallowing was not her strength but she earned her keep as a bally girl and performer of increasingly difficult acts. I had no idea that old side shows sometimes housed premature babies in experimental incubators. Side show patrons paid their expenses by buying tickets to see these tiny babies. Many babies lives were saved this way. She occasionally beat us over the head with her redundant descriptions. She needed to trust that we could smell the gross latrines and picture how tough the set-ups and tear-downs were. She embraced the carnie life, made friends (and frenenemies), and sought out as many varied experiences as possible during her 150 day season. During this adventure, she kept us updated on her mother’s health and her fears of losing her. Bravery was a recurring theme as they both repeatedly did things they were afraid of. Davy, her stepdad, seemed like a great guy who knew how to turn extreme pain into expressions of love. When her mother showed her uncharacteristic tenderness, Tessa wrote, “It has been many years since I have felt this much tenderness, and I don’t have a place for it anymore. That’s the awful price of coping.” So true.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I'm such a sucker for a great memoir and can't rave enough about,  The Electric Woman . Tessa Fontaine shares two death-defying stories...her own and the incredible story of her mother who defied all predictions of death for many years after suffering a series of strokes. Many of us dream of escaping it all, but Tessa actually does this and applies for a job working with the World of Wonders, America's last traveling side show. Bravely, she tries all sorts of incredible acts within this company l I'm such a sucker for a great memoir and can't rave enough about,  The Electric Woman . Tessa Fontaine shares two death-defying stories...her own and the incredible story of her mother who defied all predictions of death for many years after suffering a series of strokes. Many of us dream of escaping it all, but Tessa actually does this and applies for a job working with the World of Wonders, America's last traveling side show. Bravely, she tries all sorts of incredible acts within this company like sword swallowing, snake charming, and even performing as an electric woman. Surrounding herself with some of the world's most unusual people, she shares their stories with kindness and love for this misfit family and her time with them. Layered between these captivating moments, she weaves in the parallel life of her mother and her own death-defying act of traveling the world in the midst of health struggles that should have killed her. She reflects poetically on the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship and how we grow to understand our parents more and more as we age.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Becky Loader

    Did you ever want to run off and join the carnival? Eat fire? Handle snakes? Nope, neither did I. Tessa Fontaine has a dynamic mother with whom she has had a tumultuous relationship. What about that old saying that there can only be one alpha dog--one boss mare? It is the same with humans. Tessa confronts life and change by trying out for the World of Wonder traveling sideshow. She is accepted as a member. Now, can she hack it. (Read the book: you will find out what that means.) The chapters altern Did you ever want to run off and join the carnival? Eat fire? Handle snakes? Nope, neither did I. Tessa Fontaine has a dynamic mother with whom she has had a tumultuous relationship. What about that old saying that there can only be one alpha dog--one boss mare? It is the same with humans. Tessa confronts life and change by trying out for the World of Wonder traveling sideshow. She is accepted as a member. Now, can she hack it. (Read the book: you will find out what that means.) The chapters alternate between Tessa's experiences on the road and with her mother, who has had a severe stroke. The writing is visceral and emotional. I was drawn into the World of Wonder scenes by the people (who are show people--NOT carnies) who exhibit every characteristic on the spectrum of human emotion. I felt as if I knew them by the end of the book. Also, Tessa's stepfather is an amazing man who understands love and compassion. Oh, and I learned a lot of new lingo. GTFM. *snicker* BTW: Tessa hacked it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    W.L. Bolm

    I actually believe that this is the best memoir I've ever read. I'm a big fan of circus/sideshow culture, and I appreciated Fontaine's account of the modern sideshow, its hardships, and the culture that is slowly slipping away. The story of Fontaine's mother's illness was a compelling frame that explained why she was drawn to the sideshow. Even when the story didn't portray her in the best of lights, Fontaine wrote with honesty and vulnerability about her relationship with her mother and how it I actually believe that this is the best memoir I've ever read. I'm a big fan of circus/sideshow culture, and I appreciated Fontaine's account of the modern sideshow, its hardships, and the culture that is slowly slipping away. The story of Fontaine's mother's illness was a compelling frame that explained why she was drawn to the sideshow. Even when the story didn't portray her in the best of lights, Fontaine wrote with honesty and vulnerability about her relationship with her mother and how it changed as her family grappled with her mother's severe illness, multiple hospital stays, and fear over her mother's health and her mother and stepfather prepared for an international trip. This story was so gripping that I had a hard time putting it down (I've just gotten way behind on my Goodreads reviews).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Devon H

    Fontaine's stories are quite engaging, which makes up for the fact that the book seems to skip around quite a bit. However, the back and forth gives readers insight into Fontaine's deeper emotions, emotions that are often on the surface of this book. Fontaine uses emotional vocabulary throughout the book to describe her worries and hopes, which I appreciate tremendously. It is one of the reasons I'm often drawn to memoirs, as I love to hear people's emotions about their real life experiences. Fon Fontaine's stories are quite engaging, which makes up for the fact that the book seems to skip around quite a bit. However, the back and forth gives readers insight into Fontaine's deeper emotions, emotions that are often on the surface of this book. Fontaine uses emotional vocabulary throughout the book to describe her worries and hopes, which I appreciate tremendously. It is one of the reasons I'm often drawn to memoirs, as I love to hear people's emotions about their real life experiences. Fontaine tells two primary stories in her book: the story of her joining a carnival show and the story of her mother's journey through recovery from a stroke. Each story is peppered with descriptions that took me on a journey along with her, experiencing smells, sights, and the textures of her world. Her journey with the sideshow shows her new tricks she never thought she'd be a part of, and she both loves and hates every minute of it.  Fontaine's honesty about the necessity of pain and moving through fear by accepting the pain is the major theme to her story. Fontaine is constantly thinking about her place in the world with regards to everyone else. She wonders what it would like to be in others' shoes, and wonders if she's good enough to hold up to the test of being part of a grueling sideshow with very little pay and intense physical labor for long hours each day. Each day, no matter how she's feeling, she faces her fears and pushes through the pain because she's agreed to herself to make it though the carnival season. Fontaine explores a lot of her relationships with other sideshow employees, the audience, and her family throughout this book. She is open and honest about things she does well and things she feels like she didn't do well. I enjoy that kind of perspective about relationships, and again I find that is often an element of memoirs and why I am drawn to them. For some reason, this book took me a while to get into, but as Fontaine started picking up the pace with her work, I found myself picking up the pace in my own reading. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a little danger and adventure.  I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This is one of my favorite books in recent memory. It is tremendously well written, funny and inspiring, with equal measures of melancholy, bravery and adventure. It's the true tale of a young woman who goes off to join the carnival sideshow (with basically no prior sideshow skills) while also grappling with her relationship with her mother who has become disabled by a stroke. Her entire story is so beautifully and thoughtfully with such care given to the characters she meets along the way. And This is one of my favorite books in recent memory. It is tremendously well written, funny and inspiring, with equal measures of melancholy, bravery and adventure. It's the true tale of a young woman who goes off to join the carnival sideshow (with basically no prior sideshow skills) while also grappling with her relationship with her mother who has become disabled by a stroke. Her entire story is so beautifully and thoughtfully with such care given to the characters she meets along the way. And it gives you words to live by: You eat fire by eating fire. I hope you take a chance on this wonderful book.

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