A CABINET OF WONDERS

Renee Dodd

 When the curtains are drawn back on the cabinet of wonders, every individual you meet is an original, the indelible mark of their uniqueness shaped in their flesh. Molly and Faye are spirited teenagers—and conjoined twins. Saffron is the Wolf Girl, her female form covered head to toe in fur. Alex/Alexandra is a seductive morphodite, her male/female parts irresistible to many.

To the rubes that pay good coin to see them, they are Freaks. To the other carnies—those who run the Ferris Wheel, the Girl Show, and more—they are the Starlight Carnival Royale’s most lucrative source of income,

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 When the curtains are drawn back on the cabinet of wonders, every individual you meet is an original, the indelible mark of their uniqueness shaped in their flesh. Molly and Faye are spirited teenagers—and conjoined twins. Saffron is the Wolf Girl, her female form covered head to toe in fur. Alex/Alexandra is a seductive morphodite, her male/female parts irresistible to many.

To the rubes that pay good coin to see them, they are Freaks. To the other carnies—those who run the Ferris Wheel, the Girl Show, and more—they are the Starlight Carnival Royale’s most lucrative source of income, and sometimes, friends. To Shadrach the tattooed man of God who travels with them, they are evidence of the divine. For Dugan—scholar, businessman, romantic, and dwarf—the cabinet of wonders is more than just his business, it’s his family and the center of his universe, and he’ll do everything he can to keep it together…despite the rifts that are appearing after three years on the road.

Set in 1927, this marvelous tale confronts the spectacle of the Freak Show, steps through the curtains and out the other side, taking the reader to a candid, complex and human space where they can know outsiders as intimates.

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  • Toby Press
  • Hardcover
  • September 2006
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781592641644

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$24.95

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About Renee Dodd

Renee Dodd’s childhood was divided between urban Atlanta and rural Georgia. Renee, whose name is pronounced “Renny,” received an M.F.A. from the University of Houston, and teaches creative writing at Georgia College and State University. She is currently at work on a second novel.

Warning: If you haven’t read the book yet, you should be warned that there are a few spoilers in the Conversation Starters.

Praise

“Dodd makes this strange world come alive. A capable performer in her own right, she juggles multiple plot lines. It’s impossible not to be charmed by this vividly drawn crew—their tough exteriors belie tender hearts.…A rare treat: a diverting and insightful piece of quirky fiction.”
—Kirkus
, Starred Review

“Renee Dodd has achieved something wondrous…she has taken characters we tend to shun as “other” and made them into ourselves by involving us in their passion, their pain, and their vulnerable, hopeful laughter. A great debut!” —Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of Arranged Marriage: Stories and Mistress of Spices

Discussion Questions

The novel begins with a with a prologue, “Welcome Rubes,” which uses second person to place the reader back in 1927 as a spectator at Dugan’s Cabinet of Wonders. Why do you think Dodd chose to start the novel this way?

The first chapter, “A Boil Up,” is a very intimate, behind the scenes look at some of the everyday concerns of carnival performers. What effect does this chapter have on the reader? What is the combined effect of following the prologue with this scene?

In A Cabinet of Wonders, Dodd takes the types of characters that are usually marginalized in fiction and moves them to the center of a novel, making them fully developed, realistic characters. What expectations did you have when you learned that this was a book about a carnival freak show? What fulfilled your expectations? What surprised you?

What is your opinion regarding Shadrach’s belief that Wonders like those in Dugan’s show are evidence of the hand of God? How does that opinion apply to contemporary society, where medical advances have drastically reduced these sorts of human variations? What affect do you think it had on our culture to have this sort of difference change from an uncommon but noticeable presence to something incredibly rare?

Many different kinds of love are discussed in this novel—romantic love, unrequited love, platonic love, family love and so on. How are these kinds of love depicted? In the end, what sort of love seems to be the most valuable?

Do you think that working in a freak show exploits the characters in this novel or empowers them? Do you think the same sort of experience would be possible if this show existed in today’s world?

Take a look at the use of feminine and masculine pronouns used to refer to Alex, both in dialogue and in the narration. Why do some characters seem to think of Alex as female, some as male, and some as both? Why might Dugan mainly see Alex as female, and yet sometimes see her/him as both female and male?

Sean requests that Dugan and Mario help him end his life in the chapter “Seaside Requiem.” Why do Dugan and Mario agree to help, and how does doing so affect them? Would you consider Sean’s death an act of suicide? Why or why not?

Through Molly and Faye, Dodd takes the readers inside an unusual coming of age. What was your reaction to the various stages of development in the twins’ sexual awakening? How do Molly and Faye’s views of love and romance evolve throughout the novel?

Dugan is the patriarchal hub of the novel, and despite his many flaws, he makes for a likeable main character. Why is that? What do you see as Dugan’s greatest weakness? His greatest strength? What changes does he go through in the novel? Do you think he is a different man by the time he shows up at Alex’s trailer park in Florida?

Change is a big part of this novel—inevitable changes, desired changes, resistance to change… How do you think the big storm in Part Two changed the characters and altered the course of events? Do you think it was the storm that broke the family apart, or do you think it only sped up the inevitable?

Would you say that A Cabinet of Wonders has a happy ending? Why or why not?

Would you recommend this novel? If so, how would you describe it?