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The Book of Speculation
Cover of The Book of Speculation
The Book of Speculation
A Novel

One of BuzzFeed's 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015

"As Simon, a lonely research librarian, searches frantically for the key to a curse that might be killing the women in his family, he learns strange and fascinating secrets about their past. A tale full of magic and family mystery, The Book of Speculation will keep you up all night reading."—Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon's doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drowned—always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon's family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, The Book of Speculation—with two-color illustrations by the author—is Erika Swyler's moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

One of BuzzFeed's 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015

"As Simon, a lonely research librarian, searches frantically for the key to a curse that might be killing the women in his family, he learns strange and fascinating secrets about their past. A tale full of magic and family mystery, The Book of Speculation will keep you up all night reading."—Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon's doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drowned—always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon's family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, The Book of Speculation—with two-color illustrations by the author—is Erika Swyler's moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

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About the Author-
  • ERICA SWYLER is a graduate of New York University. Her short fiction has appeared in WomenArts Quarterly Journal, Litro, Anderbo.com, and elsewhere. Her writing is featured in the anthology Colonial Comics, and her work as a playwright has received note from the Jane Chambers Award. Born and raised on Long Island's North Shore, Erika learned to swim before she could walk, and happily spent all her money at traveling carnivals. She blogs and has a baking Tumblr with a following of 60,000. Erika recently moved from Brooklyn back to her hometown, which inspired the setting of the book. The Book of Speculation is her debut novel.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 6, 2015
    In Swyler’s whimsically dark debut, a damaged journal kept by the owner of a traveling freak show in the 18th century finds its way to Simon Watson, a Long Island librarian in the present with a family history that seems to be tied up in the mysterious tome. Simon’s mother, Paulina, a former carnival mermaid, intentionally drowned herself, leaving Simon to care for his sister, Enola, after their father eventually died from heartache. At the book’s outset, Enola, who also joined a traveling show, returns to the decaying family home where Simon still lives, fraught with worry over a series of bad tarot readings. As Enola’s behavior continues to concern him, Simon finds out from the book that women in his family all drown on July 24. As this date draws closer, Swyler alternates chapters of Simon’s narrative with the story that unfolds from the show’s log: it details how “Wild Boy” and tarot apprentice Amos came to be cared for like a son by proprietor Hermelius Peabody and fortune teller Madame Ryzhkova. The trouble begins once Amos falls for the mermaid Evangeline, who reminds Madame Ryzhkova too much of the woman she blames for the death of her father. The carnival chapters aren’t as engaging or convincing as they could be, particularly at key moments, although for the most part Swyler does a commendable job of juggling the various loose ends, and eventually weaving them together. A good deal of time is spent in Simon’s head, but Enola isn’t fleshed out enough. The author does get kudos for fabricating a fully formed mythos chock full of curses, omens,
    and coincidences, all of which help make up for the story’s weak points. Agent: Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management.

  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2015
    When a young librarian comes into possession of the diary of a traveling circus from more than 200 years ago, he decides the book may hold clues to a family mystery he needs to solve to save his sister's life. Narrator Simon and his younger sister, Enola, grew up in an 18th-century house on a bluff overlooking Long Island Sound. Taking after her mother, a former circus performer who drowned herself when Simon was 7, Enola travels with a carnival as a tarot card reader. Simon is still living in their dangerously dilapidated family home when, out of the blue on one June day, he receives a book from an antiquarian bookseller, who had noticed Simon's grandmother's name inside. Soon Simon discovers a frightening pattern among his female ancestors, all unnaturally good swimmers, all drowning as young women on July 24. If this "coincidence" sounds a bit far-fetched, it sets the bar for the novel's credibility. Swyler intercuts Simon's present drama-intensifying research into the diary's history, loss of his job at the local library, incipient but already rocky love affair with fellow librarian Alice, return home of Enola, irretrievable collapse of the family manse-with the romantic tragedy of Amos, a traveling circus performer, and Evangeline, an aquatic performer with a guilty secret. Born in the 1780s and abandoned by his parents, Amos is mute when he joins a traveling troupe to perform a disappearing act as a "Wild Boy." The fortuneteller takes him under her wing, teaching him to read the future. But despite her warnings, he falls for the dangerously mysterious Evangeline. She has his baby girl, and the havoc that follows leads straight to the curse that Simon, a whiny loser, is frantic to solve before someone else dies. A bit fey, even as romantic whimsy. For die-hard mermaid-fiction lovers only.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2015

    When a mysterious book detailing the history of a traveling circus arrives on the doorstep of newly unemployed librarian Simon Watson, he discovers his family's lineage includes tarot readers, professional mermaids, and misfortune. Simon soon grows obsessed with the show and its characters, like the young Wild Boy who eventually grows into a seer's apprentice, and his mermaid love, Evangeline. But tragedy lurks behind the costumes and tricks. Generations of women in the Watson family have committed suicide by drowning on July 24, and Simon fears that his card-reading sister, Enola, will be next. VERDICT Debut author Swyler creates a melancholy world with hints of magic at the edges. When the narrative shifts from the emotionally myopic Simon to the circus, the story really starts to gleam. Each member of the troupe shimmers with mystery, and one gets the sense that they are most free, most themselves, when onstage. Fans of historical novels, especially titles with circus themes or touched with a hint of the supernatural such as Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, Katharine Dunn's Geek Love, or Katharine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, won't want to leave this festival. [See Prepub Alert, 12/15/14; also "Editor's Spring Picks," LJ 2/15/15.]--Liza Oldham, Beverly, MA

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Katherine Dunn

    "In this dazzling novel, the immensely talented Erika Swyler sweeps seamlessly through generations and centuries, moving deftly back and forth and weaving the strands into an exquisite tapestry. I was immediately swept up in this quirky, raucous, and bewitching family saga. Swyler's prose is so polished and elegant it reads effortlessly, even as her distinct voice shines through--her rendering of the sea and its savage appetite rivals that of Annie Proulx's in The Shipping News. I absolutely loved this book, and consumed it whole. My only complaint is that I am already on the edge of my seat waiting for her next."

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    St. Martin's Press
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