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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.

  • 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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