Sandsone Press Logo

The Electric Woman

A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts

Tessa Fontaine

The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine

Featured in's Best Books of 2018

‘Every day we put fire and swords and electricity into our bodies, throw knives at them, contort them, wrap them in snakes, and every day we wake up sure those things won’t harm us but also sure that there is so much else that will.’

When her mother had a series of strokes, Tessa Fontaine couldn’t stand to watch her mother disappear. The Electric Woman tells Tessa’s story of joining America’s last travelling freak show, and learning to perform death-defying acts in order to come to terms with her mother’s illness. In her life-affirming memoir, Tessa finds hope and companionship among sword swallowers and snake charmers.

RRP: £8.99
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781912240203
Publication Date: 17/05/2018
Download Information Sheet

Formats Available:
Audio Book

Tessa Fontaine
Tessa’s other work has appeared in other journals such as PANK and Seneca Review. Tessa holds an MFA from the University of Alabama and is currently a PhD student in...


‘An astonishing account of life in a circus, and the camaraderie, eccentricity and storytelling ways of its performers.’

Elizabeth Macneal, The Guardian

‘This remarkable, beautifully written memoir explores the depth of mother-daughter love and the courageous acts of overcoming fear and accepting change. ’

Publishers Weekly

‘This is 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... The quiet beauty of this book lies in its ordinary, enigmatic human feats of interpersonal connection.’

The New York Times

‘A glorious, sequinned affirmation of life and vitality... a genuinely touching denouement to this original debut.’

The Spectator

‘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.’


‘Astounding, amazing, inspiring and a little bit terrifying.’


‘Come for the carnie life, stay for the courageous account of facing fear.’


‘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?’

Library Journal

‘Her story about the marvels and heartbreaks of carnival life is thrilling and captivating, and you won't be able to stop talking about it.’


‘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 book is absolutely a must-read for everyone! Mesmerising...’

Zoé, Zooloo Book Blog

‘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

‘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

‘The Electric Woman is a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at carnival life, and an ode to unconditional love.’

Erin Kodicek, Amazon Book Review

‘The Electric Woman is a love story, a coming-of-age, a brilliant exploration of discovery by a young woman ultimately set free by the flames of fire.’

Leslie Zemeckis, author of Goddess of Love Incarnate

‘With fearless grace and piercing intensity, 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.’

Melanie Rae Thon, author of Voice of the River, Silence & Song, and The 7th Man

‘A beautiful and ferocious book… I loved every page.’

Annie Hartnett, author of Rabbit Cake

On The Blog

Resolution Reading

Happy New Year, folks! To celebrate the start of 2022, we have Assistant Publisher Kay Farrell here to recommend a few Sandstone books to help you ring in the new...

On The Blog

Seasons Readings: The Electric Woman

We may have started this year's advent blog series with a very Christmassy extract, but for day two, we're taking you to an introductory fire eating class in the USA...