by Julie HaleOctober, 2005
The Electric Michelangelo
Only 31, Hall proves herself an accomplished novelist with her second book, which was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Set in the early 1900s, the narrative recounts the adventures of 15-year-old Cy Parks, who comes of age in a tourist town in England and serves as apprentice to a master tattooist named Eliot Riley. A belligerent alcoholic who excels at his art, Riley coaches Cy for 10 years before meeting a rather gruesome end. Cy, suddenly free to wander, travels to New York and opens a tattoo booth on Coney Island, billing himself as the "Electric Michelangelo." He soon meets Grace, a tightrope walker from Europe with a mysterious history. Charging Cy to illustrate her body with a special symbol a green eye Grace is transformed into his greatest work of art. Cy comes to love Grace, and together they witness the changes wrought by the First World War, including the rise of racial prejudice and religious and political fanaticism. But the heart of the story lies in the strangely fascinating world of the carnival, a society unto itself, at once appealing and repulsive, peopled with freaks, acrobats and other misfits. Hall has rendered this richly atmospheric tale in poetic prose and enlivened it with abundant period detail. Her book is also a profound examination of humanity's endless need for novelty of the public's deep-seated desire to be entertained. A reading group guide is available at www.harperperennial.com.