I’ll admit that after getting off to a rocky start with this year’s TBR list (see previous review for “White Swan, Black Swan”), I was a little leery about diving into my second book, Christopher Bram’s “Lives of the Circus Animals.” Thankfully, that fear was unfounded and I would give this read a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.
This novel is very much a slice-of-life (yay! also, reminds me of this EVERY TIME) of six main characters: Caleb, the once successful playwright whose latest play just bombed; Jessie, his sister, assistant to Henry Lewse, a big time British actor currently starring in a fluff piece on Broadway; Toby, a young aspiring actor; Frank, an ex-actor, now director of whatever is available; and Kenneth Prager, a second-string theatre critic for the New York Times. If this sounds like a lot to keep track of, it doesn’t feel like it while reading. The POV jumps from one person to the next from chapter to chapter, and though there are no headings, it was never difficult to tell whose POV was currently being shared.
The story itself shows how these different lives, from different aspects of the theatre world, wend and weave through each other, eventually leading to the closest this novel has to a climax.
And. . .there was my only issue. I love realistic, slice of life stuff, so I really enjoyed the first ~300 pages of this novel. It was only in the last 40 or so that I felt the story “jumped the shark,” and some of the events that happened after that point just didn’t feel believable. I can’t give more details without spoilers, but a character appears whom the reader’s only met once before and then does something that feels completely out of place. I don’t know. I get the story’s own explanation for this person’s actions, but. . .it’s not the direction I would have gone in, let’s put it that way.
The other small criticism is that there really isn’t much of an ending. A lot of loose ends are just kinda left hanging. We have some vague ideas of where the characters are headed after the book ends, but that’s it – choose your own adventure! At the same time, if this is staying true to the “slice of life” aspect, let’s face it, life doesn’t tie everything up neatly so maybe that’s fine. I still wouldn’t have minded a short epilogue, however.
Despite those quibbles, I would recommend this book to other readers who also enjoy realistic fiction and the often dysfunctional world of theatre. Is it a potential comp for my own writing? Not really. Guess I need to keep looking as far as that’s concerned!
What’s next on my reading list? No idea! Heading to the library tomorrow or Wednesday, and will see what’s available. I’ll announce my next picks on Twitter first, so if you’re not already following me there, be sure to do so: https://twitter.com/FrontCenterECR
‘Til next time!