A traveling carnival act struggles to stay together during a disastrous season.
Dugan the dwarf is the king of the Freaks. He serves as father figure to and business impresario of the “Cabinet of Wonders,” a traveling carnival show featuring unique specimens of humanity. His troop of regulars includes Siamese twins, a wolf lady, a hermaphrodite, a fat lady and a tattooed man. As the 1927 carnival season gets underway, Dugan feels something is amiss, but can’t quite put his finger on the problem. His natural wonders still bring in the “rubes,” but the Freaks no longer seem satisfied. Tears in the fabric of this makeshift family become apparent as the tour progresses. The Freaks’ desire for lasting relationships and stability threaten to dismantle the act. Dodd makes this strange world come alive. A capable performer in her own right, she juggles multiple plot lines. All the marvelous characters strive to accept their feelings about their unusual physical appearance and to find a home outside of the carnival. It’s impossible not to be charmed by this vividly drawn crew—their tough exteriors belie tender hearts. Although Dugan is the protagonist, only the hermaphrodite character addresses the reader in the first person. It takes a few chapters to adjust to this unorthodox strategy, but in the end, it works. When it comes to representing carnival life, Dodd obviously did her research.
A rare treat: a diverting and insightful piece of quirky fiction.