The Circus in Winter
These eleven stories range from the 1880s to the turn of the 21st century, and are bound by a circus theme. They take place in and around Lima, Indiana, a wintering spot for circus troupes. The first story relates how livery stable owner Wallace Porter’s wife’s death led him to buy a circus. Another recounts a former slave’s rise from cleaning chamber pots on steamboats to portraying a “pinhead” in the sideshow. Another describes the devastation of the circus in the great 1913 flood, leaving the reader with a vivid picture of an elephant dying under the window of a flooded house while the stranded homeowners could do nothing to help. Several stories share characters, either directly or through their descendants. The last tale ties the various story threads together in 2000, when a female college professor, the descendant of an elephant trainer, returns home to Lima to attend her grandfather’s funeral.
Day was born in Peru, Indiana, which was a real-life winter home for circuses, and is the descendant of circus folk, which gives the tales an authentic atmosphere. The overall mood is rather somber, a contrast to the festive connotation of the word “circus.” The circus brings the characters together in one way or another, but the circus theme is secondary to Day’s biography of an unusual small town. She sums up the book thus: “There are basically two kinds of people in the world: town people and circus people. The kind who stay are town people, and the kind who leave are circus people.” Memorable characters and striking word-pictures will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.