Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE CIRCUS AT THE EDGE OF THE EARTH by Charles Wilkins

THE CIRCUS AT THE EDGE OF THE EARTH

Travels with the Great Wallenda Circus

By Charles Wilkins

Pub Date: May 17th, 1999
ISBN: 0-7710-8847-7
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

An enthralling, sometimes breathtaking glimpse into one of North America’s few remaining traveling circuses. The Great Wallenda Circus is run by the scion of a great (though some might say cursed) 20th-century circus family, Rick Wallenda, whose own high-wire career was ended by a crippling 40-foot fall in early 1996. In 1997, Wilkins (After the Applause, not reviewed, etc.) decided to conquer his writer’s block and satisfy his lifelong fascination with the circus by learning as much as he could about this troupe of acrobats, aerialists, animal trainers, and clowns. Wilkins, who followed the circus on a beleaguered month-long tour of central Canada, is determined to find out why these performers choose such a difficult and dangerous life, and, to that end, skillfully elicits stories, both terrifying and enlightening, from many of them. The picture that emerges is one of an honorable profession peopled by dedicated, iconoclastic artists who spend most of their scant downtime training to improve their already considerable gifts; the surprising aspect of the author’s account is his depiction of the intense family bond, both figurative and literal, that the troupers share. Michael Redpath, who leads his family in a trapeze act, credits the circus with giving him “the chance to spend more time with my wife and kids than most people get to spend.” Wilkins’s admiration for the artists he meets is especially evident in his portrait of the elephant trainer, Bobby Gibbs, with whom he forms an especially close bond, but it’s Rosa Luna (once the star of her own hair-hanging act and now the matriarch of one of the many families working in the Great Wallenda Circus) who provides the most salient point when she tells Wilkins that “In the circus, anything that is any good is painful.” An exhilarating tribute to a disappearing art. (21 b&w photos, not seen)