Praise for The Electric Woman:
"An assured debut that doesn’t shy away from the task of holding the ordinary and otherworldly in its hand, at once. It’s herein that the book’s power lies . . . Throughout this narrative is the story of [Fontaine's] relationship with her mother, a story that is sometimes its own hard-to-watch sideshow act. Fontaine is unafraid to write the ugliness ― the imperfect care and love ― that takes place between people, and the memoir is most 'electric' when it doesn’t shy from that imperfection . . . I’m stunned by the beauty of Fontaine’s rhythms and images."
―Rachel Khong, The New York Times Book Review
"While caring for her mother following a stroke, Tessa Fontaine became enchanted by the world of the carnival sideshow, learning to charm snakes, swallow swords, and escape handcuffs. What Fontaine finds, as she recounts in her fascinating memoir, The Electric Woman (FSG), is that there's no trick to overcoming one's deepest fears."
"This is the story of a daughter and her mother. It’s also a memoir, a love story, and a tale of high-flying stunts. It recounts an adventure toward and through fear as Tessa Fontaine performs as an escape artist, fire-eater, and snake charmer with the World of Wonders, a traveling sideshow."
"Astounding, amazing, inspiring and a little bit terrifying . . . Fontaine’s circus adventures are nicely juxtaposed against her mother’s long journey of recovery, as both women learn to overcome their fears and meet life’s challenges."
"Chronicles of Fontaine’s frequently strange experiences with the carnival are interspersed with poignant reflections on the bonds shared by mother and daughter."
―San Francisco Chronicle
"If you've ever dreamed of running away to join the circus, this is the book you need to read."
"Honest and emotionally vulnerable . . . In this memoir that seamlessly balances grief, loss and wild-eyed determination, Fontaine makes a compelling case for using fear as an unexpected gift."
"Fascinating . . . This remarkable, beautifully written memoir explores the depth of mother-daughter love and the courageous acts of overcoming fear and accepting change."
―Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Fascinating and heartfelt, Fontaine’s memoir brushes with death but, more important, finds life and light in unexpected places, giving value to otherness in an unpredictable world."
"Fontaine smashes together two distinct memoirs, one focused on grieving her mother’s prolonged illness and death, the other her unlikely, brave’n’crazy season as a small-time carnival performer . . . As exciting as the snake handling, card tricks, and “secret rituals” of the carnival’s insides are, it is the grinding journey of mom-grief that will resonate with readers . . . Take a walk on the wild side, why dontcha?"
"Much of the magnificence of The Electric Woman rests in the realization that almost anything can be made beautiful, at least for a time."
"A fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at carnival life, and an ode to unconditional love."
―Erin Kodicek, Omnivoracious
“In a word: wow. I read The Electric Woman in a hallucinatory fever filled with hospital beds and carnival rides, gray eyes and biting boa constrictors, brain bleeds and headless bodies, fire eaters and electrified women. Tessa Fontaine is a real-life snake charmer―her writing hooked and hypnotized me from page one. I had to read just one more chapter, just one more until I reached the end of her extraordinary memoir, dismayed that it was over but so grateful for the unforgettable ride.”
―Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire
“Somewhere between knives and fire beats the heart of a young woman daring herself to live. In her memoir, The Electric Woman, Tessa Fontaine weaves her way through a mother-death story and a daughter-coming-alive story against the backdrop of America’s last traveling sideshow. There are so many ways to bring ourselves back to life. So many people along the way who become our secular guardian angels. This story is a breathtaking, fire-eating, heart-stopping, death-defying thrill.”
―Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Book of Joan
“This is a memoir like no other. One in which reinvention means starting out as a heartbroken girl and becoming a fire eater, a snake charmer, an escape artist, an electric woman. These are not metaphors, and yet again they are: expertly developed, sustained, and revealed in intensifying and sometimes terrifying complexity, as Tessa Fontaine enters, embraces, and finally allows herself to be transformed by the carnival’s World of Wonders and the unforgettable cast of characters who calls the sideshow home.”
―Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
“Yes, I have done it. I have run away to the circus, a realm of wonder, harsh reality, and colorful characters, vividly described by a remarkable writer who pulls off her own high-wire act with honesty and abandon, moving from loss to delight. In The Electric Woman, Tessa Fontaine is an escape artist determined to detonate the grim reality of mere existence, taking us on the most original journey I can remember in a recent memoir. As she moves through guises and adventures, she learns how to become the woman her mother loves and the person she didn’t think she could be: her own marvelous self.”
―George Hodgman, author of Bettyville
“A beautiful and ferocious book, The Electric Woman comes packed with magnificent stories of carnival tricks, transcending the limits of the body, and the bravery of survivors and caretakers. Yet, somehow no marvel is more wondrous than the writing itself. Fontaine's memoir is a brilliant testament to family, grief, love, and the astonishing trick of being―and feeling―alive.”
―Annie Hartnett, author of Rabbit Cake
“With fearless grace and piercing intensity, Tessa Fontaine juxtaposes the thrill of eating fire with the luminous mystery of her mother’s devastating strokes and harrowing transformations. I have never read a book more tender or more true. We all live in a World of Wonders, a world of terror. The Electric Woman delivers us to the potent mercy of unmitigated love, the passion of shared suffering, the resilience of the spirit, and the ecstasies of our transfigurations. The heart breaks, and breaks open―in the divine light of despair, we discover radiant joy: the hidden holiness of every breath, every being, every moment.”
―Melanie Rae Thon, author of Sweet Hearts
"Things that are difficult to imagine: the deathwatch vigil for your own mother, whose tenacious will to live defies odds and expectations. A crash course in fire eating. Joining a circus sideshow shortly thereafter. Most difficult to imagine: doing these things simultaneously. Who wouldn't be awestruck by Tessa Fontaine, even before considering the extraordinary beauty of her prose?"
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Photo credit: Zane Cash Photography