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The Circus in Winter Hardcover – July 5, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
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From Booklist

The secret lives and loves of circus people and their descendants are revealed in these 11 linked short stories. From 1884 to 1939, the small town of Lima, Indiana, hosts the Great Porter Circus during the winter months. Wallace Porter buys the circus on the eve of his beloved wife's death, claiming he has "seen the elephant." He never remarries but has a secret affair with Jennie Dixianna, the erotic acrobat who seduces men and keeps their secrets locked in a cedar box. Bascomb Bowles and his wife, Pearly, recount their sideshow adventures as "pinheads," and the tales are handed down to their son, Gordon. Gordon becomes an expert on elephants and witnesses a horrific accident involving his favorite elephant and the trainer. Ollie Hofstadter, son of the elephant trainer, leaves a career as a clown after the murder of his best friend. Years later Gordon tells Ollie the true story of his father's death. A fascinating period in American history inhabited by colorful characters and told in a lively manner. Kaite Mediatore
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (July 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015101048X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010486
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,516,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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 (Free Press, 2008), part memoir about life as a single woman and part sports story about the Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl season. Her first book was The Circus in Winter (Harcourt, 2004), a fictional history of her hometown which has been adapted into a musical.

The Circus in Winter was a finalist for the GLCA New Writers Award, the Great Lakes Book Award, and the Story Prize, and is being adapted into a musical. Her stories and essays have appeared most recently in Sports Illustrated, Freight Stories, Creative Nonfiction, and Ninth Letter. Her essay, "Where Do You Want Me to Sit?" appeared in Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom: The Authority Project. Ed. Anna Leahy, published by Multilingual Matters Ltd., one of the first books on creative writing pedagogy.

The Circus in Winter was a finalist for three book contests: the Story Prize, the Great Lakes Book Award, and the GLCA New Writer Award. It was a Barnes & Noble "Discover" selection, an "Original Voices" pick at Borders, and a Best Book of 2004 on Amazon.com. Circus has been translated into both German and Czech. Her fiction and nonfiction have been broadcast on NPR's " Selected Shorts" and "Studio 360″ and appeared in The Antioch Review, River Styx, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Story, Cream City Review, Gettysburg Review, and American Fiction, among others.

Strange but true: The Circus in Winter was the solution to the New York Times Magazine acrostic puzzle in February 2005.

Cathy has been the recipient of a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers' Conference, a Bush Artist Fellowship, a New Jersey Arts Council Grant, and other university research grants. She's held teaching positions at Minnesota State University-Mankato, The College of New Jersey, and the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, she lives in Indiana and teaches at Ball State University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Cathy Day's fine debut collection is comprised of varied stories linked through the people, both principals and descendents, of the Great Porter Circus, a show that calls Lima, Indiana home during the off-season. The author begins with "Wallace Porter," a story that tells of how the original tragedy that gave birth to the Great Porter Circus. From there, the stories branch out like a complicated family tree. Many of the characters are haunted by the death of an impressive elephant, Caesar, who was shot to death after killing his owner, as they try to make sense of their individual lives. One of the strongest stories, "The Last Member of the Boela Tribe," reads as a condensed novel by tracing four generations and their connection to the circus and Caesar. The final piece "Circus People", told in the first-person voice of a thirty-something college professor who returns for her grandfather's funeral, pulls all the others together with a sweeping look at the legacy of the defunct circus.
The subtitle of this book, "Fiction", is an apt one since "Stories" doesn't convey the connectedness of these stories. Not a true novel, this book nonetheless ties together themes and events as well as characters. Reading these stories back-to-back is essential to feeling their full emotional power. The truly wonderful part of "The Circus in Winter" is the restraint Day exhibits in what could have been a sensationalist account of the sideshow freaks, clowns, managers, and trainers. Instead, her prose is transparent, without flourish or lyricism, and she steers clear of sentimentality. To add to the strong writing, black-and-white photographs of circus memorabilia and moments introduce each story, adding the feel of a documentary and a sense of nostalgia.
In this first collection, Cathy Day proves herself an adept storyteller. I highly recommend it for readers of contemporary short fiction.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on July 31, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Some fifty years from now, literary critics will judge Cathy Day's debut novel, "The Circus in Winter," as a masterpiece of early twenty-first century American fiction. So that there is no misunderstanding my opinion of "Circus," I believe her writing is exquisite, luminescent and profound. In the same manner that Sherwood Anderson captured the essence of a small Midwest town in "Winesburg, Ohio," Day, with compassion and extraordinary insight, has drawn a portrait of a physical and emotional community in our heartland. Lima, Indiana, the wintering spot for the Great Porter Circus, emerges as a microcosm of the human condition. Through Day's assured and courageous interrelated stories, we learn more than we want, not just about circus life, but the dreams, disappointments and desires that motivate our behaviors.

Psychological tensions abound in this multi-generational novel-in-stories. There is the tension of an America in transition from its agrarian past to its industrial, technological present. There is the tension between men and women, between love and loss, between hopes and despair. There is the tension between illusion and reality. There is even unspoken tension in the names of the characters, particularly the Perdido family, whose Spanish surname signifies being "lost."

One of Day's most significant triumphs is her revisionist interpretation of the ringmaster's oft-repeated benediction: "May all your days be circus days." Said as a blessing, the words often indicate a curse. The author understands the conflicting impulses which draw us to the circus. We wish to be disgusted as much as we wish to be entertained. We hope to be made afraid as much as we want to laugh.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By M. Berkshire on August 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a resident of Peru, Indiana, it was a pleasure to read Cathy Day's excellent short stories. I'm a transplant to this small midwestern town with its strange and interconnected history, and all the old stories I have heard about Peru became transformed into lively fiction with just enough truth to make me laugh out loud. My favorite story was "Winnesaw" which was about the 1913 flood, still remembered by many living here. I also loved her ending with circus people and town people juxtaposed. Cathy came to Peru during "Circus Days" to sign and sell her book and it is already sold out. I hope she is writing another set of stories right now!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Eileen on September 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Welcome to Lima, Indiana: Circus Town U.S.A. Within the pages of Cathy Day's collection of short fiction, centering on the winter home of the fictional Great Porter Circus, you will meet performers, freaks, trainers, managers, roustabouts, gypsies, and townies. Although each of these stories can stand alone, and in fact some of them have been published previously in literary journals, they are best when read together to form an interwoven tapestry that depicts the residents of Lima and how the circus has touched their lives in some way.

Covering the period from the Civil War to the present time, these fascinating tales run the gamut of situations and dilemmas. An animal trainer is killed by one of his mistreated elephants. The daughter of a former clown cannot resist the call of the road even though she is married to a townie. Several generations of descendants of black sideshow performer Boela Man grow away from their circus past but can never leave it completely behind. A flood inundates Lima and claims the lives of a star performer and several circus animals. A tragic accident is prompted by memories of a glamorous circus cowboy. A band of gypsies takes the local campground by storm. Every story is a gem, but in my opinion the most heartfelt is the final story "Circus People," which ties the rest together with a powerful musing on town people, circus people, and the nature of hometowns.

This book contains superbly crafted portraits, touched with humor and tenderness, of a wide array of characters. The tales are set against a backdrop imbued with fascinating lore about the circus. Each story is prefaced with a black-and-white photograph that evokes the mood of the tale that follows.
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