The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane

the-thunder-of-giants“Mixing the eccentricity of the circus world and the heart of a love story, The Thunder of Giants is a warm and engaging debut about two exceptional women — both almost 8-feet tall

The year is 1937 and Andorra Kelsey – 7’11 and just under 320 pounds – is on her way to Hollywood to become a star. Hoping to escape both poverty and the ghost of her dead husband, she accepts an offer from the wily Rutherford Simone to star in a movie about the life of Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia giantess who toured the world in the 19th century.

Thus, Anna Swan’s story unfurls. Where Andorra is seen as a disgrace by an embarrassed family, Anna Swan is quickly celebrated for her unique size. Drawn to New York, Anna becomes a famed attraction at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum even as she falls in love with Gavin Clarke, a veteran of the Civil War. Quickly disenchanted with a life of fame, Anna struggles to prove to Gavin – and the world – that she is more than the sum of her measurements.

The Thunder of Giants blends fact and fiction in a sweeping narrative that spans nearly a hundred years. Against the backdrop of epic events, two extraordinary women become reluctant celebrities in the hopes of surviving a world too small to contain them.” – Publisher’s Summary

Born in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia in 1846, Anna Swan was a real-life “giantess” who eventually reached a height of nearly 8 feet tall. At the age of seventeen she travelled to New York where she lived and performed in P.T. Barnum’s famous museum; during this time she was reacquainted with childhood friend Gavin Clarke who had been injured while fighting in the Civil War. Anna made a great deal of money during her time with P.T. Barnum, however, after two separate fires destroyed the museum, she embarked on tours of Europe and the United States. While touring, she married a former Confederate Captain (from the Civil War) who was also a “giant.” After retiring from show business, the two attempted to have children, but both were so large that they died within hours or days of their births. Sadly, Anna died of Tuberculosis one day before her 42nd birthday.

In Joel Fishbane’s debut novel, The Thunder of Giants, he weaves together Anna Swan’s real-life story with a fictional account of Andorra Kelsey’s life – Andorra Kelsey being another “giantess” living in 1937 Detroit and weighing in at 7’11” and 320 pounds. Andorra, her three children, and her aging father are living in near-poverty while grieving the recent death of husband, father, and son-in-law Nicholas Kelsey. Discovered walking down the street by down-and-out talent scout Rutherford Simone, Andorra is convinced to travel to Hollywood – to star in a movie about the life of legendary giantess Anna Swan.

anna-swanIn this way the two women’s lives are brought together. Each chapter alternates between Anna’s life, Andorra’s past, and Andorra’s present experiences in Hollywood. As the history – and present – of each woman unfurls, their lives hurtle closer and closer together until they meet in a way most unexpected. Fishbane collects a delightful cast of characters to surround Andorra and while her life is difficult and she experiences tragedy, he also brings to her love, laughter, and hope. Fishbane also does a wonderful job of respectfully bringing Anna Swan’s story (Anna Swan is pictured on your left) to life in these pages, avoiding the type of sensationalism that often accompanies those who are quite so “different.”

I found The Thunder of Giants to be an enjoyable read. It didn’t keep me sitting on the edge of my seat or rushing through dinner to get back to reading, however, it did sufficiently interest me. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding the death of Andorra’s husband – in the beginning of her story, she claims to have killed him but doesn’t explain how – that unfolds near the very end. I was mostly intrigued, however,  by Anna and was even encouraged to do a bit more research on her life and experiences .

The Thunder of Giants is a charming and engaging tale of two women – one real and one fictional – that will tug on your heartstrings, bring a chuckle to your lips, and perhaps even a tear to your eye a time or two. If you’re up for that, then go and get you some, y’all.

At the end of this post is a video about Anna Swan and The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane.

The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane: On sale now!

3 stars

Source: St. Martin’s Press {via NetGalley}

 

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