Book by Wilkins, Charles
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An enthralling, sometimes breathtaking glimpse into one of North Americas few remaining traveling circuses. The Great Wallenda Circus is run by the scion of a great (though some might say cursed) 20th-century circus family, Rick Wallenda, whose own high-wire career was ended by a crippling 40-foot fall in early 1996. In 1997, Wilkins (After the Applause, not reviewed, etc.) decided to conquer his writers block and satisfy his lifelong fascination with the circus by learning as much as he could about this troupe of acrobats, aerialists, animal trainers, and clowns. Wilkins, who followed the circus on a beleaguered month-long tour of central Canada, is determined to find out why these performers choose such a difficult and dangerous life, and, to that end, skillfully elicits stories, both terrifying and enlightening, from many of them. The picture that emerges is one of an honorable profession peopled by dedicated, iconoclastic artists who spend most of their scant downtime training to improve their already considerable gifts; the surprising aspect of the authors account is his depiction of the intense family bond, both figurative and literal, that the troupers share. Michael Redpath, who leads his family in a trapeze act, credits the circus with giving him ``the chance to spend more time with my wife and kids than most people get to spend.'' Wilkinss admiration for the artists he meets is especially evident in his portrait of the elephant trainer, Bobby Gibbs, with whom he forms an especially close bond, but its Rosa Luna (once the star of her own hair-hanging act and now the matriarch of one of the many families working in the Great Wallenda Circus) who provides the most salient point when she tells Wilkins that ``In the circus, anything that is any good is painful.'' An exhilarating tribute to a disappearing art. (21 b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
In a narrative that is by turns funny, informative and poignant, Wilkins chronicles a month on the road in his native Canada with the Great Wallenda Circus in the spring of 1997 and, in the process, offers remarkable insight into a subcultureAthe diverse assortment of gymnasts, animal trainers, daredevils and wanderers who identify themselves as circus folkAthat is slowly disappearing from public consciousness. Ricky Wallenda, the producer and organizer of the outfit, inherited his famous name from his grandfather Karl Wallenda, the patriarch of the famous "Flying Wallendas" circus family. Wallenda, forced off the high wire and into show production by two harrowing accidents and haunted by the memory of family and personal tragedy, is an example of the dogged persistence that drives these performers to stay in the circus business despite the grind of constant travel and preparation, dwindling profits and omnipresent danger (what these circus folk have to say about tigers will make readers afraid of their Frosted Flakes). Wilkins's primary guide through both the lore and the practical reality of the circus is Bobby Gibbs, the 370-pound animal trainer and social provocateur who lovingly shepherds his 60-year-old, blind elephant, Judy, through the backroads and chilly arenas of Canada. Gibbs exhorts Wilkins to capture the experience truthfully: "Don't sugarcoat it!" Wilkins, with a love for the circus nurtured since childhood, balances his admiration for the performers and their craft with a probing exploration of their humanity.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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