Bottom-tier circus enchants the big, empty West in the last days before mass entertainment.
With no safety net, Raleigh (In The Castles of the Flynns, 2002, etc.) takes a spectacular highwire route over the dangerous bogs of metaphor and sentiment, making it all look easy in this captivating tale of a decent man in a very hard world. Lewis Tully, orphaned young, flees his last adoptive home, taking with him fellow orphan M.J. Shelby. The refuge the two find is the circus, and they never leave that welcoming home. Neither do they ever get rich or make it to the big time—the manic prosperity of the 1920s hasn’t reached the agrarian West where Tully and Shelby ply their trade. And their luck has been bad. Tully’s last little circus was flooded out years ago, forcing them to fill in with horse-training work. But Tully, entering his 50s, is ready for a last try with his own Blue Moon Circus. From his scruffy camp in Oklahoma he puts out a call to the best acts he ever worked with, many now retired. And they come—because they love the life, because they’re proud of their work, and because Lewis Tully is a wonderfully decent man in the shaky world of circus entertainment. That’s also why Tully’s sister Alma sends him nine-year-old Charlie, another orphan who, started on a bad track, needs a man to show him the way. The way will be tough. Tully’s got nothing but some beat-up trucks, a patchwork tent, and circus wagons from the last century. And there are two competing circuses, one good, one nasty, on the same poor, small-town circuit. But Tully’s stars—ancient magician, whacked-out snake charmer, beautiful bareback rider, Russians fleeing the Bolsheviks, Tully’s long-lost love Helen—come through again and again, until they reach the town of Tully’s dreams.
Beguiling, wise, and wonderful.