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Cover of The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts
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The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts

By: Tessa Fontaine

Publisher: Macmillan Trade

Imprint: FSG

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780374158378

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On Sale: | Pages: 384

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Tessa Fontaine's astonishing memoir of pushing past fear, The Electric Woman, follows the author on a life-affirming journey of loss and self-discovery-- through her time on the road with the last traveling American sideshow and her relationship with an adventurous, spirited mother. 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.
The Electric Woman is, among other things, an intimate portrait of a subculture that might be dying but still is vividly enthralling — and sometimes frightening.
—Tampa Bay Times
Fontaine takes us along on her carnival education as she eats fire, handles a boa constrictor, swallows swords and meets a motley cast of characters that includes a mermaid, a man with no legs, a knife thrower and his “target.”... The book is fragmented and imagistic. Fontaine narrates scenes from the hospital, then cuts to the circus, then cuts to historical sideshows for context. At their best, the various settings provide perfect reprieve: Before we have the chance to weary of the present-day sideshow, we're whisked into those of yore, only to end up right back at her mother's bedside.... There is, at times, an “Orange Is the New Black” feeling to “The Electric Woman,” with Fontaine as the Piper Kerman to the rest of the sideshow: Everyone else's story is far more interesting, including an amazing anecdote involving a Chihuahua that I won't spoil. The book is longer than it needs to be, and that is its main drawback.
—New York Times
Fontaine's memoir, “The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts,” is astounding, amazing, inspiring and a little bit terrifying. It's a story about a mother and daughter's complicated relationship, and it's also a coming-of-age story, of sorts.... Voice is crucial in memoir, and Fontaine's is just right: trustworthy, intimate and thoughtful.... Fontaine has a great eye for detail, and she depicts the other circus performers with real affection — not as freaks, but as interesting and fully realized people...
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
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