The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"The Circus In Winter" is a series of eleven "displays", or short stories, that are loosely interconnected; a detail from one story becomes the main theme in another, or the offspring of one character gets their own story later on.
Everything centers on the Wallace Porter Circus & Menagerie, a fictitious traveling circus that winters in the town of Lima, Indiana. Because of the off-season theme, the stories are more about the people than they are about circus acts, though of course there is no way for many of these characters to ever be ordinary.
Cathy Day very skillfully weaves a lot of things together here. For example, she follows the lineage of a family of faux African pinheads all the way from slave days, and shows how becoming a spear-shaking wild man for the circus paid much better than emptying so-called honeypots on a paddle boat.
A lot of these characters long for something better that seems to elude them. From a clown who ends up running a dry cleaning store, to a rising baseball star who passes up a chance to play with a barnstorming team of all-stars in order to take over his parents' mortuary, to a disillusioned railroad worker who has to find a way to deal with the gypsy band that takes over the campground he has become manager of, they all dream of happier things, but rarely find them. One character is even drowned by his own elephant, and a lonely wife hires the circus painter on whom she has a crush to paint circus scenes all over the inside of her house.
I really liked this series of stories, and although the lives portrayed don't usually go very well--like the clown who accidentally kills his clown pal by hitting him in the head with an ax--these tales are nonetheless highly readable and memorable. Recommended.
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