This is an economically constructed, fast-moving, violent novel about carnival life in which virtually all the characters, even those briefly met, are players in a charade. The story is developed along parallel lines: the events which occur in a few lives in the town of Meriden, Texas, in 1931 up to the arrival of the carnival act; and the short, unhappy relationship of Katie Hansen and Ernie Kopotkin -- the ""carni"" man. Katie, a waitress in a dreary midwestern town, had married Ernie in exchange for his promise that he would eventually support her illegitimate child and they began a life which consisted of one-night stands, across the country, following the harvests and the payrolls. Ernie, a sadist who reassured himself in brutality, was the son of magicians. He perverted his small craft into a grotesque and ghastly fraud, having acquired in his travels with Katie, a ""geek"" -- Guy, a mute whom he bound and harnessed to represent a limbless man. It is Katie's tortured affection for this mute, whom she sees as her other child, and her perverse attachment to Ernie, which binds her to a life increasingly degrading. But in Meriden, Ernie rapes a 17-year-old girl and in a defensive attempt to lead a depraved and enraged lynching mob to the mute he is himself exposed by a wily pickpocket. Freed at last from Ernie's dominance, Katie decides to stay with Guy and her son in Meriden. The virtues of this sordid case history of emotional cripples remain confined to its craftsmanship. John Haase's first novel was a paperback original. He has brought some of that field's more lurid aspects into this novel.