The Louisiana Gulf Coast in the 1940s and 50s, a traveling circus, tattooed performers… all the settings for a potentially bucolic tale. Instead, Indelible Link pulls the veneer away, and we meet the circus workers and their families in their full humanity. The center of the story is the complex interwoven relationship between Matilda (tattooed trapeze flier) and Eddie (tattoo artist). They both have addictions: Eddie uses heroin to combat the memories of WWII, and Matilda uses tattoos to both physicalize her emotional scars and externalize the objects of her affection.
Matilda runs away to join the circus as a teen and, using her growing tapestry of tattoos as part of her costume, gradually moves to be the star (though controversial) of the trapeze. Tragic loss, scandal, and a life-defining accident derail her plans but also allow for a reconciliation with family. Eddie and Matilda are finally able to confront and overcome their respective demons.
A superbly well-written tale (Fisher’s second novel), Indelible Link confidently moves the reader back and forth in the timeline to advance the plot and provide backstory at just the right time. The characters are well-rounded with enough depth to be instantly relatable. We feel the sense of both time and place (one can almost feel the grit and sawdust of the circus road, and the languid Texas and Louisiana post-war expansion), but none of it becomes overbearing or tiresome. The dialogue conveys the personality of each distinct character without sacrificing the plot. A quick map of the circus route might have been an interesting addition as an appendix, but its lack does not detract at all. The author’s hand slips into the background, and we are left with a story too hard to walk away from.