Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Circus in Winter


Orlando, FL: Harcourt, c2004.
288 p.


I've had this book on my shelf for a long time. I chose it as one of the books I wanted to get to in Emily's TBR Challenge, and I'm glad I did so, because that finally made me read a book that I very much enjoyed. I knew I had picked it up originally for a good reason!

The book is laid out in a series of short stories. I liked this approach, as we meet various characters at the circus, from the owner and manager Wallace Porter, to Jennie Dixianna the acrobat famous for her 'Spin of Death', to Hans Hofstadter, elephant trainer whose charge turns on him. Each of these characters is fascinating enough on their own, and they reappear as side characters in the others' stories. I enjoyed how this pointed out the way we see the world - our own viewpoint holds central importance for us, but we are only peripheral to others. The writing is somehow elegiac; there is a sense of affection for these troubled characters, and a feeling of looking back at the intricacies of their emotional lives with a tinge of nostalgia - meant in the sad, protective sense of nostalgia, not sentimentality. I enjoyed the writing itself nearly as much as the stories; it suited the book perfectly, and captured a whole feeling of the lost glory days of a travelling circus.

One of the stories, though, being set outside the circus and its denizens, didn't seem to fit perfectly. It chafed a little, poking up from the smooth surface Day had created with all the other stories. The only tie it has is that it is set in the town and house of some of the circus performers from years earlier. Gathering together stories that have been previously published can sometimes have this effect; I think this particular story, though affecting on its own, could have been left out of this collection without any change to the main narrative line.

This book provided a look at an unusual setting, inspired by the author's background in Peru, Indiana, once a wintering over location for the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. She obviously knows her subject, even having relatives who had been part of that circus. A part of circus life that we don't often consider, that of the months of survival necessary when not performing, is excellently presented. After reading this I am not sure you'd really want to run away and join the circus...the life seems like lots of hard work mixed in with lots of waiting around. Read this wonderful writing for an escape instead.

3 comments:

  1. Wow, this sounds lovely and intriguing. I'm a big fan of the interrelated short-story format, and also of elegiac show business/circus/back-stage type of settings. Will definitely check this out; thanks for the great post!

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  2. The subject matter of these stories is so interesting to me, I'll have to give this book a try!

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  3. emilys - I hope you'll enjoy - it really was a great read, with many memorable characters.

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