When a very, very old manuscript filled with the specifics of circus life in the 1700’s finds its way into the hands of a research librarian named Simon, he doesn’t quite know what to make of it. His grandmother’s name is written in the book, but he’s not sure how the book connects to their family. While researching the book and his family history, he realizes that all the women in his family have died from drowning on the very same day. What makes it weirder is that they’ve all been carnival mermaids who can hold their breath for long periods of time. Not the likeliest of drowning victims. All this information does not bode well for Simon’s sister, Enola. To make matters worse, Simon’s life is coming apart at the seams. His relationships are rocky, his house is falling down, and he just lost his job.
Swyler alternates chapters of present day Simon’s story with the story of Amos, a mute circus worker from the 1700s. Amos starts working as a wild boy (the best wild boy they’ve ever had) and slowly makes his way into other parts of the circus. Eventually (obviously), the two stories start to connect.
Although this book wasn’t everything I hoped it would be, it was an enjoyable read. There are several mysteries in The Book of Speculation and it’s fun to try to puzzle them out as you’re reading. Swyler wrote some wonderful, complicated characters. Unfortunately, Simon wasn’t one of them. He fell a bit flat for me and his constant “I know what’s best” attitude towards his little sister was obnoxious. Even with that caveat, I’d still recommend this one to fans of magical realism, books about books, or circus novels (nowhere as magical as The Night Circus or as weird as Geek Love though).