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The Circus of the Earth and the Air [Hardcover]

Brooke Stevens
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 1994
When his wife volunteers for a circus magician's trick and then vanishes without a trace, Alex Barton sets out to find the sinister power that has kidnapped her, a quest that leads to a job as a tightrope walker. 10,000 first printing.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

While on vacation on a small island off the coast of North Carolina, Alex and Iris Barton feel as if they are in a pleasant dream when they stumble across an odd circus. But the dream turns into a nightmare in this flawed but promising first novel when a conjurer makes Iris disappear. Alex's search for her takes him on a strange journey that leads to a small Mississippi church, an island devoted to the circus stage and into the darkness of his childhood. Along the way, he gets help from a cast of characters straight out of Wonderland: a contortionist, a sheriff of Indian descent, even the conjurer who caused him so much trouble. Many of the nightmarish situations the author employs to advance the plot are cliched and not particularly surprising. However, his writing is, for the most part, adequately lucid; he describes circus life vividly (having once worked for Ringling Bros.) and understands how its mystique operates in the American subconscious. Old, grainy photos of various circus performers scattered throughout the text enhance its slightly surreal mood.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In this dreamlike, nightmarish novel, the action is continually shifting from the nearly incomprehensible to the nearly normal. The protagonist, Alex, watches as his wife volunteers for a disappearing act at a circus on the island of Verre. When she does not return, and no one seems even to remember her, he sets off on a surreal odyssey filled with horrors, torture--both physical and mental--and a cast of characters from a different world: the world of the circus. Alex's adventures, bizarre encounters, and musings are punctuated by photographs of circus performers. He finds what he seeks, but what is it? What was it? Author Stevens, who worked as a tiger groom with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses, has written an amazing first novel that strikes repeatedly at the core of the notion of the performer, the performance, and the unknown. Eloise Kinney

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting...and confusing... Dec 19 2002
Format:Hardcover
I'm not an afficianado of ethereal plots or esoteric ideals. Doesn't mean I don't enjoy it, as displayed in Mr. Stevens' narrative. I was, indeed, grabbed by the first few pages, and kept reading, thinking this would lead to an interesting conclusion. Since I was a novice to this form, I greatly appreciated Mr. Stevens' ability not to give anything away, treating all readers like first-timers. This, to me, was good. There was a lot of potential regarding secret societies, and the dream-like quality of the whole thing was intriguing. All-in-all, I was expecting more. After such an impressive build-up, the ending was a disappointment. I'm left wondering what it was all about. This is, apparently, not a genre that I'm prone to. Sorry...
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Format:Paperback
Okay, so I will admit it. I have not researched the author one bit, so this review will come clean from my head with no supporting material. This novel is an extremely entertaining read, though it does feel a bit as if it had been written by a novice writer. One with great talent, but one who is not quite at the top of his game yet.
The book is a wild ride, I will give it that. It has a touch of magical realism, a healthy dose of the absurd, and an absolute fascination with the Circus. In many spots, it is quite haunting, and for that alone, it is worth the read.
One of the small flaws I noticed, was the absolutely unnecessary (and somewhat anti-thematic) adultury. Didn't quite get the purpose for all of that when the book is basically the main character's search for his wife. Absolute conviction and dedication don't really mix with infidelity on a plot level.
Still, at around 10 bucks, it's worth ignoring the few flaws. All-in-all, an easy-to-read entertainer with some higher aspirations.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings... Kafka-lite?? March 20 2001
Format:Paperback
Let me begin by saying that I read this book, start to finish over the course of an evening, so as far as the "page turner factor" goes, this book has it in spades. Stevens manages to grab the reader's attention early on... around page two... and hold it. A very, very, impressive command of suspense, especially for a first-time novelist.
The story is told in a straight-forward, lucid, almost childlike prose. This is both a stregnth and a weakness. While this approach-- for the most part, simple, declarative sentences-- makes it easy to read in one sitting, it robs it of a certain resonance. It a pharse, the language is not deft enough to create any real sort of ambiguity or enigma. Now, obviously, this is a matter of preference. I'm a reader of Pynchon, Millhauser, Kafka, Bartheleme, Gaddis, Barth, Coover, etc. I feel that Stevens' work is, in a sense greatly informed by such authors-- especially Millhauser, and on a more subliminal level, Kafka. Stevens does invite you into a dreamworld, but there really isn't much for the reader to do but observe. This is an enjoyable, but not challenging book. It doesn't ask the reader to do a lot of work. Worse, there is a sort of "feel-good-new-agey" thread that surfaces once in a while, and seems evident in the Hollwood-esque ending. (another reader remarked that the ending was open to interpretation-- I don't really believe that it is open to ENOUGH interpretation-- there are really only two possibilities.) The "blue light" I felt, to at once be cliche, but also not really explained well enough. There is a difference between deliberately creating ambiguity and being unclear. I think Stevens just doesn't explain himself well enough.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Circus of the Earth and the Air Sept. 4 2000
Format:Paperback
This book operates on an entirely different plane than most other novels. It is an action novel that's simultaneously psychological, mythological and emotional. The many scenes, which are almost entirely visual and exquisitely beautiful, operate on multiple levels. Proof of this is the way the story and characters seem to infiltrate the reader's dreams. For myself and most of my friends who read it, we found it nearly impossible to put down or to stop thinking about for that matter. It is an experience that you will not forget.
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