Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Welcome to Lima (pronounced like the bean) Indiana, a town unlike other small midwestern towns in one very important respect: Here, the circus came to spend the winter months. Every fall, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, brightly painted trains would roll in, unloading animals and circus people alike into a large compound of barns, bunkhouses, cages, and paddocks on the outskirts of town. Elephants bathed in the river, big cats roared at the rain, and clowns, acrobats, and showmen drank whiskey around the campfire.
In a series of interwoven vignettes spanning three generations, Cathy Day paints a heartfelt portrait of performers both human and animal. "Jennie Dixianna" performs her trademark "Spin of Death"; Caesar the elephant is mistreated in life by his cruel trainers and misrepresented in death by those who believe their lies; and phony circus "freaks" ponder the effects of their exploitation and public humiliation.
The Circus in Winter is the story of a town where history's indelible imprint is found on modern life. While traveling shows are less common today, the impetus to wander remains, which makes Day's historically based fiction a careful yet marvelous study of human nature seen through the eyes of those who traveled with their "family" through a world in which they were always strangers.
(Fall 2004 Selection)
In The Circus in Winter, her new collection of interrelated short stories, [Day] succeeds in appropriating much of the garish pungency of the world of freaks, geeks and sideshow Houdinis without succumbing to its ready banalities. Although once or twice she treads close to cliche -- must the revelations of two-bit fortunetellers in fiction always turn out to be true? -- most of the time she steers clear of tired expectations. This is one circus act that doesn't rely on dependable gimmicks to keep the audience amused.
The New York Times
Day's debut collection spins graceful, elegant circles around the inhabitants of Lima, Ind.-especially the acrobats, clowns and circus folk of the Great Porter Circus who spent their winters there from 1884 to 1939. The poignant opening tale reveals how Wallace Porter, distraught by the death of his beloved wife, came to own his eponymous menagerie. The second, "Jennie Dixianna," introduces the dazzling, tricky Jennie, who wears her wound from her Spin of Death act "like a talisman bracelet, a secret treasure" and plots her way into Wallace's heart. Other stories tell of the young black man who plays at being an African pinhead; the son of a trainer killed by his circus elephant; the flood that devastated the circus. Thanks to finely observed details and lovely prose, each of these stories is a convincing world in miniature, filled with longing and fueled by doubt. Day, who grew up in a town like Lima and descends from circus folk herself, uses family stories, historical research and archival photographs to weave these enchantments. Though her stories often contain tragedy and violence-death in childbirth or from floodwater, cancer, circus mishap-they're also full of beauty. In "The Bullhook," Ollie, a retired clown, spends long decades with his frigid wife, waiting, armed with his father's bullhook, for death to come for him. In "Circus People," Ollie's granddaughter reflects on her fellow itinerant academics, "my latest circus family," and muses about people all over America who leave the place they grew up: "when the weather and the frequency are just right, we can all hear our hometowns talking softly to us in the back of our dreams." B&w illus.. Agent, Peter Steinberg. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A series of sensitively drawn, interconnected short stories makes up Day's first novel, which invites readers into the less-than-fanciful realm of circus folk. Drawing on observations made during her own childhood in Peru, IN home of the International Circus Hall of Fame Day strips away the grease paint and costumes of clowns, elephant trainers, and steel-nerved acrobats to reveal lives as messy as any found in mainstream America. As her narrative meanders back and forth in time, the fates of her characters are shaped by tragedy, misguided romance, and the ironies of natural catastrophes. Two drunken clowns forget to use a wooden wig, which would have prevented one from burying an ax in the head of the other. An aging, intoxicated acrobat is crushed in a dreadful flood by the very bed she so generously shared with the countless men she bewitched with her charms. Meticulously researched and graced with a dozen lovely black-and-white historical circus photographs, Day's portrayal of life under and outside the big top is accomplished; several of the short stories were previously published in slightly different form. Strongly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/04.] Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Day's wise, warmhearted debut reveals the private lives and secret yearnings of clowns, acrobats, and pinheads as they interact with the locals in a circus's midwestern off-season home. Herself the descendant of a ticket-taker and an elephant trainer, the author integrates family history with documentary research to create a multifaceted portrait of Lima, Indiana (stand-in for her hometown, Peru). It could be any American town filled with men stuck in dead-end jobs and women looking for more from life than another baby-except for the galvanizing annual stays of the circus folk. Immigrants, misfits, dwarves, and former slaves reinvented as African royalty, they incarnate the intoxicating possibilities of freedom and pleasure beyond the edge of town, even though their lives are scarred by loss, disappointment, and tragedy. As the narrative moves forward across the 20th century in a series of stories about interconnected characters, the Great Porter Circus shuts down, its performers and roustabouts retire, and their children become dry cleaners, railroad clerks, and bank tellers. Traces of glitter and sawdust in the air add a ghostly poignancy to the later tales of small-town restlessness. "The King and His Court," a brilliant, bitter chronicle of Laura Hofstadter, whose dreams are stymied by an unwanted pregnancy, launches the second half, in which all the thematic strands come together. "There are basically two kinds of people in the world," Laura tells her daughter Jenny before vanishing. "The kind who stay are town people, and the kind who leave are circus people." Jenny becomes a modern-day circus person, an academic who moves from place to place and job to job. But when she returns forthe funeral of Grandpa Ollie, a former clown, Jenny realizes, "the world is full of hometowns . . . . And just because it was hard to leave Linden Avenue in Flatbush or the Naperville city limits or Lima doesn't mean you can't ever go back." The book closes on that moving note of reconciliation and understanding. Funny and tough-minded, yet tender and touched with magic: this is a real find. Agent: Peter Steinberg/JCA Literary Agency
PRAISE FOR THE CIRCUS IN WINTER
"Day's collection of linked short stories is as graceful as any acrobat's high-wire act." -SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
"This is one circus act that doesn't rely on dependable gimmicks to keep the audience amused."
-THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"[Cathy Day's] elegantly juggled debut collection of interconnected stories . . . conjures a bigger picture of family-and of America . . . [A] bright tent of storytelling."-ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY