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The Circus in Winter

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  1,188 Ratings  ·  188 Reviews
From 1884 to 1939, the Great Porter Circus makes the unlikely choice to winter in an Indiana town called Lima, a place that feels as classic as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, and as wondrous as a first trip to the Big Top. In Lima an elephant can change the course of a man's life-or the manner of his death. Jennie Dixianna entices men with her dazzling Spin of Death ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 6th 2005 by Mariner Books (first published July 5th 2004)
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Mar 23, 2010 Gail rated it really liked it
I went into this book with little to no expectations. The plot was interesting, sure, but this was more a book I wanted to get through to get to the other side, so I could interview the Ball State group working to turn its themes into a musical.

Talk about a fantastic surprise to have discovered such a gem of short stories. Obviously these are all the more poignant to me since I'm a Hoosier (and Day herself grew up in Peru, Ind., the town not too far away from me that, at the turn of the century,
Mar 19, 2014 Lauren rated it liked it
A series of interconnected short stories, this collection is more about a small town in Indiana than a circus. Yes, at one point in the town's history, the circus did winter there, but that hook is never given the space and room it deserves. Honestly, the premise could have been anything. There’s nothing that makes the circus a necessity, which is a problem when that’s the supposedly unifying element of a short story collection.

As for the stories themselves, they’re not bad. But they aren’t grea
Alec Rigdon
Dec 22, 2015 Alec Rigdon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Circus In Winter is a thoughtful collection of interwoven stories that come together the more you read. While some of the figures are left as caricatures, a few are fully fleshed out with comic, disturbing, or heartbreaking narrative. The final piece is a beautiful meditation on what it's like to leave the small town you grew up in.
Peg (Marianna) DeMott
I was halfway into this book before I realized it was more of a collection of short stories than an actual novel. It was probably one of the more depressing books I've ever read. I guess in a way that's understandable. Other books I've read on the circus such as Water for Elephants have highlighted what a tough life circus people actually live. There's a bit of glamour and glory but lots and lots of backbreaking work and deprivation in this way of life. I also had a hard time liking the many of ...more
Linda Johnson
Feb 14, 2015 Linda Johnson rated it really liked it
I love books about the circus and this was a really good one.
The Circus in Winter is a series of connected tales about circus performers and their children and spans several generations in a small Indiana town called Lima where the circus winters at. Although the stories were very dark and tragic, this book was nonetheless page turning for me.
One of my favorite quotes from this book and one that spoke personally to me was,
"When I was little, my mother told me there are basically two kinds of
Jan 25, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lisa Runion
Recommended to Laura by: Alice Runion
This is one of the most unique books I've read in years. The book is comprised of a collection of stories of several characters, whose stories all intertwine by the end of the book. (With the exception of one story, "The Lone Star Cowboy," which only relates to a story near the beginning of the book.) I am in awe of how Day introduced each character and how each one impacts the lives of all of the others. Each story can easily stand on its own, which is refreshing in its own right.

Overall, the s
Didi Delighted
May 19, 2013 Didi Delighted rated it liked it
Parts of this I enjoyed, and other sections were a little flat to me. All the female characters are angry or bitter or both, and the only happy couple in this book happens to be the pinhead family. Everybody else is "trapped" in sad, dismal marriages. It gets a bit repetitive. I felt like the author's definition of circus and non circus folk was sort of silly. If you want to stay in one place- fine, but you'll end up bored to tears in a loveless marriage with a person who is as distant as the hi ...more
Aug 02, 2010 Lynn rated it liked it
I originally heard about this book while listen to NPR several years ago. The author read an exerpt from a chapter about a flood hitting Lima, IN. Lima is where the circus stayed in the winter. I was excited to finally find the book and was eager to read the other chapters. Day read a scene in which an elephant was seeking safety along side the house of a circus worker as the water continue to rise. The elephant had stretched its trunk up and into the house in an attempt to continue to breath an ...more
Feb 23, 2010 Jenny rated it really liked it
I might say four and a half stars actually. The stories in this book transcend the fantastical setting of circus life and are woven together within universal themes of of humanity. I found myself incredibly moved by each story and additionally relating to them as well. As a person who also ran screaming from my hometown, the last two stories resonated with me especially loudly. It is so difficult to leave one's hometown and even more difficult to ever go back. I feel a connection to mine and at ...more
Jul 25, 2016 Marisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was gorgeous. It's sort of a novel and it reads like fiction, but it feels like non-fiction and is presented as a series of interwoven short stories. This is a multi-generational story of a community of circus people who spend their winter downtown in Lima, Indiana. Each individual story is so captivating that when each one ended I forgot the whole book was not on that one story. Unusual - a clown who runs a cleaners, an elephant trainer drowned during a snowstorm by an elephant - but still ...more
Sep 25, 2007 Tia rated it it was amazing
This book of related short stories follows the lineage of different circus characters to modern day - from the man who brings in the circus to a distant relative who runs kicking and screaming from her hometown. CIRCUS creates a magic about heritage (through characters, through different families, through stories in the story) that later questions itself and, eventually, asks the reader to consider what magic could be in their own hometown.
Jan 14, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it
really magical circus stories. I read this a couple winters ago just after having watched HBO's Carnivale, which is itself an enchanted and twisted tale.
Jan 15, 2014 Marshawc rated it it was amazing
this collection of related short stories is woven together quite cleverly,
giving the reader a grand feast, one tidbit at a time.
Oct 12, 2016 Sharonh rated it it was ok
When I started the book, the first, maybe 1/4 ,of the stories were awesome... about the circus, its performers, its history and its winter quarters but then it went off to bizarre and silly stories that weren't really related to the circus. I was quite disappointed.
Oct 09, 2016 Mary rated it really liked it
I didn't want to read more than one of these stories each day. They were too troubling and strange but were based on actual events and people.

Day did a wonderful job of connecting the stories. The last story was the experience of the great-grand-daughter of the circus trainer killed by an elephant as she attended the funeral of her grandfather and grieved the mother who left the family abruptly when she was a teen. Each one of those relatives had their own stories earlier in the book.

I'd like
Jul 16, 2012 Jill rated it it was amazing
This novel-in-stories (linked stories, short story cycle) is right up my “Clown Alley” and keeps good genre company with Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO O’Brien’s THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, Houston's COWBOYS ARE MY WEAKNESS, Alexie’s THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN, Cisneros’s THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, not to mention recent Pulitzer Prize winners, Jennifer Egan for A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD and Elizabeth Strout for OLIVE KITTERIDGE. While most linked stories pivot around a central char ...more
Jan 29, 2008 Derek rated it it was amazing
If Alice Munro and Sherwood Anderson had a child, and that child was given up for adoption and subsequently raised by Ricky Jay, the child's name would be The Circus in Winter, and it would be an exquisite and profound collection of short stories.

To say this book exceeds my expectations would be to presume that I didn't already have high expectations for it in the first place. It's so meticulously imagined, so perfect in its descriptions of "domestic" Midwestern life, that the setting of the cir
Shay Caroline
May 15, 2015 Shay Caroline rated it really liked it
"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 get 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
Hope Baugh
Dec 30, 2013 Hope Baugh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites-2012
Of the 80 books I read in 2012, this was my favorite re-read.

(I am writing this at the end of 2013 after re-reading my 2012 reading log. I have decided to "award" favorites in three categories for 2012: fav print fiction, fav print nonfiction, and fav re-read.)

"No woman intends to end up looking foolish but sometimes it happens." ('Sorry I didn't note a page number for this quote!)

I read this collection of interconnected short stories when it first came out in 2004 because it is based on true
Jan 22, 2013 Dana rated it really liked it
When I first started reading this book, I felt it might be a bit dark for my tastes...but the pages kept turning! As I read, I realized it was not so much 'dark' as gritty and real, each story told of life exactly how it really was for folks during the time period and how some truly felt about things when nobody was looking--deep down inside. This made for a page-turning story of humans and life, void of rose colored glasses and many comforts.

As I was almost finished reading, I ran across a quot
Oct 10, 2015 Sam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went into this not knowing much, except that it was a book about circuses and I love books about circuses. I was expecting something along the lines of maybe Water for Elephants. What I got instead was a collection of very dark, very depressing, but excellent short stories.

I loved how the stories weaved together; not quite enough to be considered a novel, but enough that you get to see the same event from different characters' eyes, or even through time as the details get passed down through t
Aug 04, 2011 Adrianna rated it it was ok
This book is a somber mix of narratives about the town of Lima, Indiana which was once the winter quarters of the Great Porter Circus in the late 1800s.

The stories are not about the circus itself but about the people whose lives were connected in some way to it although some are very loosely connected. In fact, the narratives flow like a ripple effect. The first few chapters are about characters that interacted firsthand with the Porter circus and the following chapters drift further and furthe
Sep 06, 2011 Christian rated it really liked it
I was looking for a book about a depression era circus and came across this lovely book. I had no expectations going into the book and didn't realize that it was actually a book of short stories woven together by the thread of the Porter Circus; that fact wouldn't have dissuaded me in the least since I am generally a fan of this particular type of writing. But what an amazing find this book was.

The stories were at once depressing and illuminating. As I read and reflected on each, I was continua
Jan 28, 2011 Kristen rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
i really liked this one. i didn't think i would like it at first. i didn't realize it was a collection of short stories, and for some reason, i don't usually enjoy short story collections. but this was great! i loved how the characters were inter-connected and they were so rich & real and full of history! it was fun to read each story and then "recognize" people from other parts of the book.

i loved the small town setting of lima, the circus town and how the circus meant something to that to
Jeremy Zerbe
May 25, 2008 Jeremy Zerbe rated it it was amazing
Cathy was a professor of mine at the University of Pittsburgh, and one of the few to have actually published something significant (other than David Walton's Ride and Marcia Landy's gazillion text books about Italian film), so I felt obliged to give the book a once over. I've always liked Cathy, and I think she's a damn fine professor, but I didn't know what to expect from her book. If I'd have known how good it was, I wouldn't have waited so long to read it.

I suppose it's one of those things, a
Jo Ann

This book is about the fictional "Great Porter Circus" which was based on the real Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus that had their winter quarters in Peru, Indiana. Its a series of short stories that intertwine with each other across three generations of people who were associated with Porter's Circus.

I found the author's style of writing smooth and flowing and her characters very believable. The mood of the book is on the melancholy side if you have ever experienced an Indiana winter you will understan
Jan 26, 2015 Elaine rated it really liked it
“The Circus in Winter” is a collection of short stories with a common setting in Lima, Indiana, a fictional city closely resembling Peru, Indiana, well known as “the circus city.” Accurate historical details provide the backdrop for the stories. Since our family hails from Peru, we’ve heard, for instance, first-hand accounts of the famous flood of 1913. Elements of the circus or Lima or certain characters weave the chapters together loosely. For instance, accounts of the killing of the elephant, ...more
Mar 10, 2016 Beverly rated it liked it
Shelves: cover-to-cover
We will be discussing this book in one of my book clubs this month. Although fictional, this series of short, interrelated stories is based in fact. Her tales revolve around the Great Porter Circus, that would winter in Lima, Indiana and they reveal some interesting characters. We read about Jennie Dixon, who's Spin of Death act leaves her with a bloody bracelet. One short reveals what happens when the gypsies come to town and another brought me to tears when Caesar, one of the the bull elephant ...more
Aug 23, 2014 Pam rated it really liked it
I read this book because a young man that I had the good fortune to know at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts here in KC while he was Patron Services manager, was involved in writing a musical based on this book and it is premiering at the Goodspeed Theatre in Chester, Conn in October!
As I read the book, I could not imagine how it could be made into a musical...I would love to see it!
The book is fiction. It is about circus life and is loosely based on the experiences of the author's fa
A tightly interwoven set of short stories about the generations living in an Indiana town that for several years served as a circus' winter home. I picked it up for the colorful circus tales, but ended up being just as captivated by those about the small town life that went on outside and after it. These are by and large not happy stories; the circus has a tarnished magic, the small town a claustrophobic pallor. Lives are ruined by cruelty and bad luck, or deadened by monotony, duty, and quiet d ...more
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Cathy Day was born and raised in Peru, Indiana, which is best known as a circus town, but is also the birthplace of Cole Porter and the Spanish hot dog. She is the author of two books. Her most recent work is Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love (Free Press, 2008), an immersion memoir about life as a single woman set during the Indianapolis Colts 2006-2007 Super Bowl season. Her ...more
More about Cathy Day...

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“At the college where I teach, I'm surrounded by circus people. We aren't tightrope walkers or acrobats. We don't breathe fire or swallow swords. We're gypsies, moving wherever there's work to be found. Our scrapbooks and photo albums bear witness to our vagabond lives: college years, grad-school years, instructor-mill years, first-job years. In between each stage is a picture of old friends helping to fill a truck with boxes and furniture. We pitch our tents, and that place becomes home for a while. We make families from colleagues and students, lovers and neighbors. And when that place is no longer working, we don't just make do. We move on to the place that's next. No place is home. Every place is home. Home is our stuff. As much as I love the Cumberland Valley at twilight, I probably won't live there forever, and this doesn't really scare me. That's how I know I'm circus people. ” 13 likes
“When I was little, my mother told me there are basically two kinds of people in the world: town people and circus people. The kind who stay are town people, and the kind who leave are circus people.” 9 likes
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