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.
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 GaztambideCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved