Excerpt from Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Curious Toys

by Elizabeth Hand

Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand X
Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Suppose, now, that in a room of watching others coquet with Death, you should toy with her yourself. With infinite ingenuity, the amusement park offers you opportunity.
—Rollin Lynde Hartt, "The Amusement Park,"
Atlantic Monthly, May 1907

We aren't easily intimidated.

And yet we are always frightened
—John Ashbery, Girls on the Run



Chapter 1

AN ACCIDENT, NOT his fault. Wouldn't stop bouncing, set her on fire and policeman choked him, big hands yes your fault, not an accident don't you lie to me. He ran and here he was, keeping her safe, keeping them all safe. Won't happen again he was watching now. It was an accident.



Chapter 2
Riverview Amusement Park, Chicago, August 1915

THERE HE WAS again, smoking a cigar in front of the Infant Incubators. A white man not much taller than Pin—and she was small for her age and looked twelve, rather than fourteen—but too tall to be a midget. Something stealthy and twitchy about him: every few minutes, his head would twist violently and he'd punch the air, fending off an invisible assailant.

There was no attacker. Crowded as the amusement park was, Pin saw no one anywhere near him. The young mothers dragging their kids into the Infant Incubators building to escape the heat stepped off the sidewalk onto the Pike to avoid coming within two feet of him. He was a dingbat.

She ran her sweaty hands across her knickerbockers, removed her cap to fan her face. She'd seen the weird little man at the park often—three or four times a week he'd be standing near one of the rides, always watching, watching. He never seemed to change out of the same soiled work clothes. Trousers, shirt, a dark-blue canvas jacket. Heavy boots. A white boater hat with a stained red band; sometimes a bowler.

Today it was a boater. He never rode any of the rides, and never seemed to partake in any of the attractions. Once she'd seen him outside the Casino Restaurant, drinking a glass of beer and eating a sausage. A few times he'd been with another man, older, the two of them like Mutt and Jeff in the funnies: one tall and skinny, the other short with that grubby mustache and dinged-up boater.

But lately the weird little man was always alone. And all he ever seemed to do was watch the kids go in and out of the Infant Incubators, hop off and on the Velvet Coaster, clamber into the boats that bore them into Hell Gate or the Old Mill, then back out again.

He knew Pin was watching him. She could tell by the way his eyes slanted when he cocked his head, pretending to look in the other direction, the way Mr. Lerwin used to look at her younger sister, Abriana. But the dingbat wouldn't know that Pin was a girl disguised as a boy. No one knew, except Pin and her mother.

He talked to himself, too. One of these days she'd sidle up close enough to hear what he was saying. But not this morning. She tugged her cap back down, felt in her pocket for the Helmar cigarette box Max had given her half an hour ago, along with a cuff to the back of her head.

"Don't you go dragging your feet like last time," he'd said. "I can't afford to lose business."

"It was raining. Lionel ain't gonna ditch you."

"It's not raining today. Go."

He raised his hand in warning. She darted out of the dressing room and heard him laughing behind her. "Run, rabbit, run!"

She spat on the pavement, kicking at a squashed stogie, spun on her heel, and headed for the exit gate. When she glanced back over her shoulder, the dingbatty little man was gone



Chapter 3

MAX ALWAYS GAVE her fare to the movie studio or the other places where she delivered hashish cigarettes and dope, though only enough for one way. She never stopped asking him for the nickel, even though that risked getting smacked.

Excerpted from Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand. Copyright © 2019 by Elizabeth Hand. Excerpted by permission of Mulholland. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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