New Books Network

Tessa Fontaine

The Electric Woman

A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2018

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in LiteratureNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books Network August 27, 2018 Zoë Bossiere

Who doesn’t remember their first trip to the county fair? The greasy hotdogs and popcorn and cotton candy. The lights and sounds of the...

Who doesn’t remember their first trip to the county fair? The greasy hotdogs and popcorn and cotton candy. The lights and sounds of the seemingly endless games and rides and shows on the midway. But maybe most of all, the sense of wonder inspired by real people who could contort their bodies into incredible shapes with ease, and show off amazing feats of agility and strength you never thought possible. Feats that made you think, “How on earth did they do that?”

The trick, it turns out, is that there is no trick. Most of what you see, you can believe. This is the first of many sideshow axioms writer Tessa Fontaine learned when she left the life she knew to join the circus in 2013. Now, in her debut book of nonfiction, The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts (FSG, 2018), Fontaine’s keen descriptive powers offer a revealing glimpse into the secret world of the United States’ last traditional traveling sideshow. On the road, Fontaine met all kinds of personalities—from carnies to showpeople—who taught her about wonder, and how to inspire it through her performances as a fire breather, a sword swallower, a snake charmer, and so much more.

Today on the New Books Network, join us as we sit down with Tessa Fontaine to hear more about The Electric Woman and her incredible journey traveling with the World of Wonders sideshow.


Zoë Bossiere is a doctoral student at Ohio University, where she studies creative nonfiction and teaches writing classes. For more NBn interviews, follow her on Twitter @zoebossiere or head to zoebossiere.com.