Daniel's Reviews > The Circus of the Earth and the Air

The Circus of the Earth and the Air by Brooke Stevens
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Feb 28, 12

Read in July, 2004

This book has been described as an "action novel," as "ethereal" and "esoteric" and "suspenseful." I argue that it is none of those things. In fact, I would argue that this book is nothing more than a meandering, clumsy tale that appears to have been made up as the author went along.

The set-up is great, and as far as novel concepts go, a good one: a couple go to a circus, the wife volunteers for a disappearing act, and, uh-oh, she never reappears. The circus performers completely ignore the panicking husband, and the next day, nobody anywhere has any knowledge of the cirucs, its existence, etc.

I once went on a forest walk with a friend, and he claimed to know where he was going. We walked for five hours, and although it was obvious he was lost, he asserted he knew where we were. We missed lunch, we sprained ankles, it rained at some point, and finally we emerged right where we started. "See?" my friend said, "I told you I knew what I was doing." I decided not to argue with him.

This novel is that friend. It takes you through some interesting places, some mind-numbingly dull places, some confusing, painful, and altogether pointless places, and emerges right where it started with a weak, half-hearted "voila!"

I am not one to discount absurdism in art, or to deny the ars gratia artis in the world of novels, but only when it is well-done. This book could be considered "well-paced" if the trip took you anywhere; because the journey, here, is the point of the book, and not the destination, the utilitarian style of writing only stultifies any kind of mood or atmosphere that Stevens is attempting to create. I found myself reading faster and faster and faster, sure that around the next corner I'd discover something of interest, something profound and meaningful. Instead, I just found more corners! By the end, I'd turned so many of them that, whoops, I was back where I started.

Finally, my biggest complaint is that the novel presupposes an air of importance and metaphorical self-righteousness that gives it the grace and subtlety of a pubescent tirade. The metaphors are clunky, heavy, and EVERYWHERE (count the number of fish and sea similes, I dare you). The over-arching themes of the book attempt to make the point of the story weighty and substantial and significant, but only serve to highlight just how uninteresting and dull the main character (Alex) and his actions really (usually) are.

If you want an ethereal, metaphorical, creepy, mystery to read, skip Circus, and check out Danielewski's House of Leaves. His book has almost the same goal, but he achieves it with the elegance and style Stevens only hints at.
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message 1: by Miriam (new)

Miriam The set-up is great, and as far as novel concepts go, a good one: a couple go to a circus, the wife volunteers for a disappearing act, and, uh-oh, she never reappears.

Maybe try The Disapparation of James instead.


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