Curious Toys

Chicago Review of Books Chats with Liz Hand About Curious Toys

Chicago Review of Books sat down with Liz to talk about Curious Toys, as well as researching history, Chicago, and her genre-defying work.

I’m fascinated by artists who work and live outside the mainstream — I’ve written historical novels about the 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud and the notorious Victorian painter Richard Dadd, among others. But Darger offered different challenges. He was such a genuinely strange person. He was obsessed with young girls, in particular five-year-old Elsie Paroubek, who was abducted and murdered in Chicago in 1911. Almost certainly he suffered severe abuse and trauma when he was institutionalized, and you can see that in his paintings and drawings — his artwork is often extremely disturbing and violent. And there’s been some speculation that he was a sexual predator and serial killer, and that he might even have been Elsie Paroubek’s murderer.

Read the entire interview at Chicago Review of Books.

More Praise for Curious Toys

The reviews are rolling in for Elizabeth Hand’s new novel, Curious Toys!

Chicago Review of Books:

Hand makes the Hell Gate a richly layered study of horror and sin, sex and truth, American piety and American reality. But she does so without fuss or strain, glancing up against the big ideas so gently that, as Pin bumps along in her little boat, readers can feel like we’re the ones coming up with them. She has crafted Curious Toys as a tense, short-chaptered contemporary thriller, the kind where you might think “I’ll read just two more pages” and then catch yourself having gulped down twenty. Yet like Pin herself the novel is something much more complex than it at first might appear.

Associated Press:

"Curious Toys" delves into the various characters' psyches showing how they are affected by the early 20th century, poverty and despair. For many of these characters, their future is as bleak as their present with no escape or options. But Pin's enterprising nature, intelligence and innate curiosity may be salvation for her and her fragile, drug-addicted mother. The author peppers "Curious Toys" with cameos of real people including Charlie Chaplin, Wallace Beery and assorted actresses whose identities are only revealed at the end. The movie studio Essanay helped launch the careers of many silent era stars before eventually being absorbed by Warner Bros. Henry Darger was a real outsider artist and writer.

The Washington Post:

With short, breathlessly paced chapters and constantly shifting points of view, “Curious Toys” is itself like a carnival ride: alternatively dazzling and terrifying, disorienting and marvelous.

Chicago Tribune:

But while Hand paces her mystery with classic precision, the real reward of “Curious Toys” lies in its richly textured panorama of Chicago during a crucial period of change, and in its vivid characters. Riverview, of course, is legendary among older Chicagoans, and Hand presents it not as a generic carnival-murder setting, but as a kind of distorting mirror of cultural anxieties, many of which are still with us today. Pin’s own gender identity, complicated by pretending to be a boy (and at one later point, pretending to be a girl again), is echoed by Max’s half-man, half-woman sideshow act. A wood near the park is known as a place for assignations among gay men. Among the sideshows were “Infant Incubators,” an actual early form of neonatal care, but at the time treated as tawdry entertainment.

The New York Times:

While the amusement park setting enables Hand to ramp up the tension with a toolbox of strange and creepy people and places to play with, she never falls prey to pointless sensationalism. This makes Pin’s story — her quest to discover the truth, not just about what happened in Hell Gate, but about who she is and how she might find a place in the world — more vivid.

Upcoming Events in NYC, Washington, DC & La Grange

The release of Curious Toys is imminent, which means there will be several opportunities to see Elizabeth Hand in the coming weeks. Right now we can confirm three events this month in New York City, Washington, DC, and La Grange, Illinois.

Please see our brand-new Events page for more information on these upcoming appearances, and check back as we add more!

Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus: Raves for Curious Toys

Reviews for Elizabeth Hand’s upcoming historical crime novel Curious Toys are coming in, and they include words like “thrilling,” “richly imaginative,” and “deliciously unsettling.” (You’ve pre-ordered your copy, right?)

Library Journal gave the novel a starred review, saying:

The historical details are fantastic, as are several cameos by real-life figures besides Darger. When readers reach the end of this thrilling adventure, they’ll see how every choice has been perfectly made. ­Hand is a mage of the page. The gritty mise-en-scène and realistically portrayed characters in her novel will enchant those who like tough-girl protagonists and antiheroes, as well as fans of historical crime fiction.

Read the entire review at Library Journal.

Kirkus Reviews calls the book “richly imaginative and psychologically complex”:

To call the novel and its characters “colorful” is a terrific understatement. A carnival setting immediately allows for a higher threshold of the bizarre, but Hand skillfully develops each character beyond mere oddity or empty sensation. Most of all, Pin is an engaging, courageous heroine, and her musings on gender identity are both poignant and relevant.

Read the entire review at Kirkus Reviews.

And Booklist also gave Curious Toys a starred review:

Hand expertly plays the excitement of Chicago’s burgeoning entertainment industry against the killer’s unsettling obsession with dolls, twisting the story even darker by pairing Pin with Henry Darger, a freshly released psychiatric patient who claims he’s on a mission to save Chicago’s girls. A well-crafted and deliciously unsettling period thriller that will find fans among those who enjoy Caleb Carr’s mix of early modern technology and investigative action.

Link to come.

You can pre-order Curious Toys from your local bookstore or from your favorite online retailer. Find links on the Curious Toys page.