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The Circus of the Earth and the Air Hardcover – January, 1994

3.9 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While on vacation on a small island off the coast of North Carolina, Alex and Iris Barton feel as if they are in a pleasant dream when they stumble across an odd circus. But the dream turns into a nightmare in this flawed but promising first novel when a conjurer makes Iris disappear. Alex's search for her takes him on a strange journey that leads to a small Mississippi church, an island devoted to the circus stage and into the darkness of his childhood. Along the way, he gets help from a cast of characters straight out of Wonderland: a contortionist, a sheriff of Indian descent, even the conjurer who caused him so much trouble. Many of the nightmarish situations the author employs to advance the plot are cliched and not particularly surprising. However, his writing is, for the most part, adequately lucid; he describes circus life vividly (having once worked for Ringling Bros.) and understands how its mystique operates in the American subconscious. Old, grainy photos of various circus performers scattered throughout the text enhance its slightly surreal mood.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In this dreamlike, nightmarish novel, the action is continually shifting from the nearly incomprehensible to the nearly normal. The protagonist, Alex, watches as his wife volunteers for a disappearing act at a circus on the island of Verre. When she does not return, and no one seems even to remember her, he sets off on a surreal odyssey filled with horrors, torture--both physical and mental--and a cast of characters from a different world: the world of the circus. Alex's adventures, bizarre encounters, and musings are punctuated by photographs of circus performers. He finds what he seeks, but what is it? What was it? Author Stevens, who worked as a tiger groom with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses, has written an amazing first novel that strikes repeatedly at the core of the notion of the performer, the performance, and the unknown. Eloise Kinney
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 410 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1st edition (January 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151179875
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151179879
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #625,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book operates on an entirely different plane than most other novels. It is an action novel that's simultaneously psychological, mythological and emotional. The many scenes, which are almost entirely visual and exquisitely beautiful, operate on multiple levels. Proof of this is the way the story and characters seem to infiltrate the reader's dreams. For myself and most of my friends who read it, we found it nearly impossible to put down or to stop thinking about for that matter. It is an experience that you will not forget.
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By A Customer on December 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book was quite a surprise. I read only the back cover when it was presented to me as a rather interesting book. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it and then I started to read it. It was fast paced right from the start. The writer didn't waste 2 chapters explaining in detail the charaters and background... and for me that was a wonderful thing. The story flowed well and I couldn't seem to put the book down, even when I knew I had to.
This is a must read for anyone that likes romantic adventures.
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By A Customer on March 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There are thousands of novels published every year, but only a few ever rise to the top of the literary heap. Stevens' novel is among the elite few. It manages to deftly combine the elements of a love story, Americana, surrealism, Gothic art, and European film into one beautiful engulfing tapestry. Stevens does what few writers do successfully: carve out a unique landscape that is completely his own. The classic American journey-novel has been given a much needed shot in the arm by Stevens, and I hope that in 10 to 20 years this becomes a part of the so-called canon in high schools and colleges.
This is one of three books I'd take with me if I were on a desert island. A big-hearted book that embodies the word "escapist".
So buy it now from Amazon!
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Format: Paperback
I pretty much wept for joy when I read this book. It was like Brooke Stevens had gotten into my head at night and captured my dreams. The book is a dream. I've often thought about figuring out how to most accurately convey the dream world to others. Brooke Stevens has done it! It captures the thick and mysterious atmosphere of the circus and carnival. There are hints of Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. A must read for anyone who has fantasized about running away with a dark carnival or is just fascinated with the hallucinatory world of dreams. This book is a masterpiece! Thank you Brooke!!
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By A Customer on December 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book was quite a surprise. I read only the back cover when it was presented to me as a rather interesting book. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it and then I started to read it. It was fast paced right from the start. The writer didn't waste 2 chapters explaining in detail the charaters and background... and for me that was a wonderful thing. The story flowed well and I couldn't seem to put the book down, even when I knew I had to.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Worth reading . In my opinion at times when reading this book it felt like I was in a dream that got a bit crazy ,how dreams sometimes go. The focus of the circus surrounding the plot was very good . A love story with action.
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Format: Paperback
Woe to the man who tries to neatly summarize the plot to Circus of the Earth and the Air. Where do you start? With what you think happened? With what the narrator thinks happens? Remember the last time you took way too much cold medicine and could have sworn your mom was walking through walls and your dog had turned into a flying monkey? Welcome back to that state of mind. Opening on a deserted beach, Stevens quickly takes us to the circus, where popcorn is purchased and wives are lost. From there, onto a mysterious island-based military fortress, where that wife may or may not be. To his credit, Stevens never creates a dull moment. The pace is furious, and the barely buried psychological implications are immense. On the minus side, Stevens does not rank up there as a writer with one of the prettiest styles I've ever encountered. At more than one point, the language seems functional at best. One is reminded of an old cliffhanger series. Some parts are more than a little implausible, even a bit corny, yet you HAVE TO know how it all turns out. When you're not in the mood to tackle Ulysses, but you're not really psyched for Dean Koonz either, give this one a shot. You've definitely never read anything like it
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Format: Paperback
Let me begin by saying that I read this book, start to finish over the course of an evening, so as far as the "page turner factor" goes, this book has it in spades. Stevens manages to grab the reader's attention early on... around page two... and hold it. A very, very, impressive command of suspense, especially for a first-time novelist.
The story is told in a straight-forward, lucid, almost childlike prose. This is both a stregnth and a weakness. While this approach-- for the most part, simple, declarative sentences-- makes it easy to read in one sitting, it robs it of a certain resonance. It a pharse, the language is not deft enough to create any real sort of ambiguity or enigma. Now, obviously, this is a matter of preference. I'm a reader of Pynchon, Millhauser, Kafka, Bartheleme, Gaddis, Barth, Coover, etc. I feel that Stevens' work is, in a sense greatly informed by such authors-- especially Millhauser, and on a more subliminal level, Kafka. Stevens does invite you into a dreamworld, but there really isn't much for the reader to do but observe. This is an enjoyable, but not challenging book. It doesn't ask the reader to do a lot of work. Worse, there is a sort of "feel-good-new-agey" thread that surfaces once in a while, and seems evident in the Hollwood-esque ending. (another reader remarked that the ending was open to interpretation-- I don't really believe that it is open to ENOUGH interpretation-- there are really only two possibilities.) The "blue light" I felt, to at once be cliche, but also not really explained well enough. There is a difference between deliberately creating ambiguity and being unclear. I think Stevens just doesn't explain himself well enough.
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