An extraordinary first novel that, in its remarkable inventiveness, intelligence, and charm-struck humanity, should...


SUITE FOR CALLIOPE: A Novel of Music and the Circus

An extraordinary first novel that, in its remarkable inventiveness, intelligence, and charm-struck humanity, should draw--and more than richly reward--readers of almost every inclination. Ada Cunningham, of Richmount, Indiana. is the partly cripped daughter of gifted and highly eccentric parents: a journalist mother who declares Ada to be a prodigy, raises her as such (with flamboyant Élan), then dies suddenly when her daughter is eight years old; and a father who is a musical genius, who came from poverty and was a transient violinist and artful dodger as a child, who gives Ada music lessons from the time she's three, and who is committed to an asylum before she is 16. Life with these parents--as described by the brave, unflinching, quick, forgiving, and heartwrenchingly observant Ada--would be matter enough for many a novel, but this one soars on toward farther ends that keep the reader wide-eyed and enthralled. There's a penetrating mystery at the heart of it all, and, before its solution: an aunt who comes into the picture with malevolent aims (she may even want to murder Ada), a burned house, legal proceedings--as result of all of which Ada, accused of being both a witch and a madwoman, flees Richmount and takes to the road (as her father did before her), supporting herself by her wits and by her gifted piano playing (in brothels and bars), until at last she finds sanctuary and refuge in the winter quarters of a circus troupe--with setting, color, and cast of characters worthy of yet another novel--where she becomes (and remains) calliope player, composer, and loved member of this wondrous new ""family."" A summary leaves out far too much: the sturdy grace of Ada's never-self-pitying voice; the continual feast of homely detail, and detail of music, musicians, and musical instruments, as weft as of the circus and its people; and the breathtaking symbolic depth of the whole, which, touched by the hand of this gifted writer, serves to place Ada's birth, her flight, and her high artist's quest among very august novelistic company indeed. A prodigiously masterful novel of profundity, breadth, and continual delight: waiting now only for what ought to be its very, very many readers.

Pub Date: July 1, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1987