A finalist for The Story Prize, the Great Lakes
Book Award, and the GLCA Book Award
From 1884 to 1939, the Great Porter Circus makes the unlikely choice to winter in an Indiana town called Lima, a place that feels as ordinary as Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, and as wondrous as a first trip to the Big Top.
Over three generations, the circus transforms this small town, providing a magical backdrop to daily life. In Lima, Indiana, meeting an elephant can change a man’s life or the manner of his death. Jennie Dixianna entices men with her dazzling Spin of Death and keeps them in line with secrets locked in a cedar box. The lonely wife of the show’s manager has each room of her house painted like a sideshow banner, indulging her desperate passion for the young painter. And a former clown seeks consolation from his loveless marriage in his post-circus job at Clown Alley Cleaners. In Lima, legend and lore outlive the circus itself, luring contemporary inhabitants to far away places in search of the adventure that has moved on.
The connected tales of The Circus in Winter display the rise and fall of an American circus. Cathy Day follows the performers and their progeny into history, vividly bringing the everyday lives of circus people to the page.
The Los Angeles Times
Redolent of sawdust and tinsel and rich in the particulars of circus history, this lovely book reminds us that the conflict between the desire for freedom and the need for security, between wanting to invent a new identity and knowing who you are, takes place in every human heart.
The Boston Globe
…one of the most sublimely imaginative and affecting novels I’ve read in years.
Is there a more seductive and ghostly phrase than “circus in winter”? Day, who grew up in Peru, Ind. — once the off-season home of many American circus companies — sets her elegantly juggled debut collection of interconnected stories in the fictional heartland town of Lima, Ind. And from stories she spins about the tatty magic of elephants and dwarves, roustabouts and clowns, dreamers and hustlers living together as devoted and combustible as kin, she conjures a bigger picture of family–and of America .
…a three-ring extravaganza of characters and narrative styles.
Day’s confiding, omniscient narrator–echoing not only [Sherwood] Anderson but also Mark Twain–plunges into the tragedies that befall acrobats, clowns, and elephant trainers.
There is dazzling joy when into the hands of a critic there falls a book of such deftness and vision that it defies conventional superlatives. Such a book is The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day.
Cathy Day’s first book is memorable on several counts. It is filled with rich characters, astounding images, and resonant language. Day also tells a good story…Simply put,
The Circus in Winter approaches the very best of American short fiction.
This is a series of latter-day fairy tales…Day chronicles terrible grief, unrequited passions, and fitting revenge. Escapist summer reading has rarely hit so close to the bone.
New York Times Book Review
In The Circus in Winter…[Day] succeeds in appropriating much of the garish pungency of the world of freaks, geeks and sideshow Houdinis without succumbing to its ready banalities…This is one circus act that doesn’t rely on dependable gimmicks to keep the audience aroused.
The Chicago Tribune
“An impressive display. Day moves back and forth in time in a story-cycle form similar to the work of Louise Erdrich and Sherwood Anderson. Foregoing the rising and falling action of traditional plot, Day has assembled instead a living museum of the town’s history, a portrait gallery of its fascinating residents across time. Like a good museum, The Circus in Winter varies its displays. Like a good circus, the spotlight continually shifts from one ring to another.”
“Day’s wise, warmhearted debut reveals the private lives and secret yearnings of clowns, acrobats, and pinheads as they interact with the locals in a circus’s Midwestern off-season home..Funny and tough-minded, yet tender and touched with magic: this is a real find.”
“Day’s debut collection spins graceful, elegant circles around the inhabitants of Lima , Ind. 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.”
“A sparkling work of fiction, deftly written, often funny, always graceful, and rich with a mix of historical and imaginative detail that makes the reader see and hear and smell and taste. Above all, The Circus in Winter is completely engrossing as raw story–a book that reminds us of the enduring power of the well-told tale.”
–Tim O’Brien author of The Things They Carried and July, July