Medicine Show, Heidi Lampietti (ed.), 2006, ISBN 1892619091
This is a collaborative novel (each chapter written by a different person) about a medicine show traveling around Europe in the immediate aftermath of World War I.
Professor Bernhard Freedomhowler’s Internationally Acclaimed Traveling Exhibition of Medicinal Wonderment consists of a very disparate group of individuals. Calliope is a boy with smooth skin, a snout-like nose and a tail, who can whistle from his mouth, his nose and even his ears. Norris is part-human and part-dog, who is brought on stage as a snarling, ravenous beast ready to tear out someone’s throat. After he is given a dose of Freedomhowler’s Pan-Herbal Restorative Elixir, he immediately turns into a calm, erudite person quoting Shakespeare.
Lady Bodicaea (real name: Heather McInnerney) is Scottish, and the show’s strongwoman. Grenadine is an English nurse who is the show’s medium/fortune teller. The leader of the group is Bernhard Freedomhowler (his real name is Tarbottom), an American from Kentucky. He learned the business as part of Wild Bill Hickok’s Perambulatory of Astonishing Wonders. Wild Bill has become a figment of Freedomhowler’s imagination, and constantly talks to him.
The group spends much of its time just trying to make enough money to eat and to make it to the next town or village. There is the always-present need to make a quick exit should the local townspeople decide that the group has worn out its welcome. Freedomhowler also tries to stay away from Drake, part of the American forces, who orders him to give up the medicine show and return to America (Freedomhowler is an ex-spy).
With any collaborative novel like this, some chapters will be better than others. It’s a good story, and for those interested in the history of World War I, this book is worth checking out.
Paul Lappen is a freelance book reviewer whose website,Dead Trees Review, has over 700 reviews on all subjects, with an emphasis on small press books.