The image of a traveling circus is given disturbing resonance in this unusual allegorical novel, the second from the gifted young Mexican author of Tula Station (2000).
The story begins on the road, when a splinter group of performers (magician, human cannonball, aerialist, et al.) led by Don Alejo Montécon (who has quarreled with his brother, circus co-owner Ernesto) settles in an abandoned town—and immediately abandons the rigors of performing. Strongman Hercules cannot resist the lure of sanitary bathroom facilities; hirsute Harrieta seeks release from the demeaning act that blasphemously displays her as “Our Father reincarnated as a woman”; and Don Alejo himself warms to the opportunity to hunker down in sensual communion with his beloved “diving pig.” Toscana takes numerous risks in the defiantly weird first hundred pages, juxtaposing several characters’ stream-of-consciousness reminiscences and fantasies with straightforward narration of the conflicts and changes that occur when the circus folk undertake life in “their” town (now renamed Our Lady of the Circus), accepting occupations decided by drawing lots. Harrieta becomes their doctor, Hercules the town whore, midget Nathaniel a priest, contortionist Flexor the token Negro, and so on. As they labor to lead a communal “normal life,” they instead enact every imaginable variety of class conflict, ethnic and religious prejudice, and benign neglect. Toscana’s daring gamble slowly, surely pays impressive dividends. Harrieta’s forlorn fantasy of a gallant defender of abused womanhood, Nathaniel’s stubborn pride in his family’s (imaginary) distinguished lineage, Flexor’s stoical endurance of terrible pain (he may be dying for their sins), and Don Alejo’s nostalgic yearning for the romance and danger of yore (“Nowadays everybody wants a net or declawed tigers or sterile knives”—all assume a plaintive, though hallucinatory humanity. And when Ernesto’s circus suddenly reappears, the tale ends on a note of bitter, bracing irony.
A one-of-a-kind performance. Toscana is ready to join the ranks of Latin America’s finest novelists.