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The Final Confession of Mabel Stark: A Novel (An Evergreen book) Paperback – February 19, 2004

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Product Details

  • Series: An Evergreen book
  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (February 19, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802140432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802140432
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #806,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This ribald, rough-hewn debut novel by a prize-winning Canadian writer is based on the flamboyant career of Mabel Stark, arguably the greatest (certainly the greatest female) tiger trainer of all time. Recounted as Stark is turning 80 in 1968, the faux memoir follows her path to superstardom through the 1910s and '20s as she learns to tame tigers and men, and finally tours with the famous Ringling Brothers Circus. Stark, born Mary Haynie, is a teenage Louisville, Ky., nurse, when she is committed to a mental hospital after rebelling against her brutish husband's insensitivity. Aided by a smitten psychiatrist, she escapes to Tennessee, where she becomes Little Egypt, a headliner belly dancer with the Great Parker Carnival. Another marriage and another gig as a "cooch dancer" follow, until she is rescued at the age of 23 by Al G. Barnes, a carny pal, lately owner of a small circus. When the show's animal trainer falls for her, he teaches her how to work with tigers and a new career is launched. Famous for the act in which she wrestles Rajah, a 500-pound Bengal tiger she's raised from a cub, she is also known for her brazenness, multiple marriages ("My men. Whew. Had a slew of them") and black leather jumpsuit. Rich in the atmosphere of circus life, this graphic, slangy fictional reminiscence also offers some surprising, deft metafictional touches.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

In his first novel, Hough tackles the life of the indomitable Mabel Stark, the first female tiger trainer in circus history. When Stark took center stage at Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 1920s, the big top was the best-selling entertainment venue in the country, but the science of animal training was still in its infancy. Clad in white leather, Stark would cue a 500-pound tiger to wrestle her to the ground, and more often than not, she would emerge unscathed. Unlike the animals today, Stark's tigers were neither neutered nor declawed, and she survived several near- death experiences that did little to deter her from perfecting her deadly craft. Leaving a string of failed marriages and unspeakable secrets, rambunctious Mabel Stark is brought to life from her journals and letters, and although Hough uses artistic license to fill in the gaps in his research, his intimations are all too plausible here, where the truth is certainly stranger than fiction. Elsa Gaztambide
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Great Read really hard to put down!
I could picture Mabel telling the story even though the author tells us he fictionalized quite a bit of it...filled in the details, like any historical fiction novel.
Anyone who has ever been to a circus will enjoy this book.
Susan Mahalick

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Karl Miller on June 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Robert Hough may be a new voice in fiction, but his storytelling talents are like those of a veteran.
"The Final Confession Of Mabel Stark" tells the tale of a rebel, who finds both her calling, and her salvation in the unorthodoz world of tiger training. Stark was a real-life entertainer, who was a noted act in the Ringing Bros. circus, reaching her peak of popularity in the 20's and early 30's - but the book is an imagined biography, giving the author license to fashion a life as large and colorful as Mabel apparently was.
Told in a breezy style, with great humor and very talented wordplay, the author takes us from Mabel's "traditional" life (nurse, housewife) through mental problems, abusive marriages and dance girl days, until she finds both her calling (as a cat trainer) and the love of her life (a lipstick wearing man named Art Rooney, who is a wonderful character, deserving of his own book). Hough gives Mabel a literary voice that begins as sad, shifting to (extremely) wise-cracking, and finally all-knowing. Her adventures with the circus and her many cats (the best parts of the book involve Mabel's interactions with her many felines over the years, and this interaction propels the story and brings about the shifts in Mabel that prove to be her ultimate triumph), are both hysterical and thought-provoking - much like something Tom Robbins would write.
This book is an unexpected pleasure - I picked it up because of the classic circus design on the cover, because I had never heard of the wirter, or book before (it is a first novel by Hough). I'm glad to welcome him as a new talent, and hope that he has more of this wonderful type of storytwlling within himself.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Efran Howell-Lee on September 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
My name is Virginia Barnes Stonehouse, and I am the daughter of Al G. Barnes, one of the "characters" in this novel. I enjoyed this novel about Mabel Stark, and I know it is mostly fiction, but I would like to address two points relative to two of the not so fictional characters therein. One is a reference to a particular showgirl who visited Al G. Barnes frequently, who I suspect is my mother Jane Hartigan whose relationship and marriage to Al G. Barnes lasted several years, and whom the novel refers to as "vermin." Although I was very young, I well remember living until the age of five on the circus's private railroad car "Canadia." I remember all the people mentioned in the novel, including Mabel Stark and her famous black leopard. I was the one who took the role of "Alice" in the "Alice in Jungleland" spectacular and it was a great success. The second point is that the novel attributes the loss of my father's circus as due to the claims made against him by various women. I do not recall this to be true either. When my parents divorced my father was ordered to pay my mother a monthly sum for alimony and child support, but he rarely paid these sums on time and my mother had to call or go to him to receive what he owed her. After my father sold his circus, he invested the money he received into trying to find oil on his property that had once been the winterquarters of the circus. There was no oil and he was left penniless. After he died my mother claimed the home left on the property, and we lived there for several years until my mother sold it. We never received anything more. Al G. Barnes is still remembered and talked about by many people, including myself, several of his grand children and now his great great grand children. I thought I should make clear that despite how the novel portrays it, my mother was not "vermin" and my father was not a pathetic victim of voracious women.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Mabel Stark a real circus performer known for her famous tiger taming acts from the 1920's is the main character of this fictional memior by Robert Hough. The story begins with the 80 year old Stark telling her life story or confession and it is a thrill for us to read. Mabel has had more action packed into her life than most.
She begins life as Mary Haynie a teenage nurse in a small Kentucky town who ends up in a disasterous marriage and as a result finds herself in a mental institution suffering from a supposed nervous breakdown. When a sympathetic psychiatrist helps her to escape, she finds a job the only place she can, a cheap carnival as a dancing girl. Following another disaster of a marriage she is forced to dance "cooch" and finally gets spotted by Al. G Barnes who runs a somewhat more respectable carnival. It is here that Mabel encounters her beloved tigers and marries for a third time to well know animal trainer Louis Roth. Although the marriage doesn't work out, her career taming tigers is a smash hit. Barnes buys her a tiger cub named Rajah and Mabels life changes. Hough does a fascinating job describing life in the carny and creating the fictional life for all these historically real people. Mabels accounts of raising Rajah and the act she develops and the maulings she survives are nothing short of astonishing. She has a very interesting relationship to the animals.
As Mabel moves through husband number four, she is sought after and hired by the Ringling Bros. circus and becomes a bonafide star. She discovers that fame is not all it's cracked up to be and it is at one of her lowest points that she meets her true love Art, husband number five.
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