The first sight of Omaha's Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition in 1898 took people's breath away: “everything white and shimmering as if chiseled from a salt lick — was like looking upon an ancient city before it fell.”
So writes Timothy Schaffert in his fifth novel,” The Swan Gondola” (Riverhead/Penguin, $27.95). As he has shown in his previous books, the Omaha writer can create wonderful word pictures that make the reader really see.
He also can make you care about his characters, especially those we meet in “The Swan Gondola.” Most of them are the colorful people who have come to the fair to make money, the midway workers — not quite model citizens but oh so interesting.
The story is told by young ventriloquist Ferret Skerritt, who falls madly in love with the fair Cecily. Of course, all does not go smoothly.
Told partly as Ferret's memories and partly through his letters, the reader will get to know all of their friends and some enemies. There is romance, mystery, a sprinkling of magic, and there's a little literary cleverness thrown in.
And there is history. I loved what I learned about Omaha in those days almost as much as the story itself. It's a fun romp through this young town.
I hope readers discover this book and make Schaffert a household name. He deserves to be read.