Roustabout

Michelle Chalfoun, Author
Michelle Chalfoun, Author HarperCollins Publishers $22 (0p) ISBN 978-0-06-017297-8
Paperback - 223 pages - 978-0-06-092799-8
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The sordid world of a traveling circus is the promisingly exotic setting of this first novel by ex-carny hand Chalfoun, but uneven prose and broad characterization keep the story from fulfilling its potential. The heroine of this big-top bildungsroman is Mat, a tent-rigger who was brought to live at the Circus Fantastico as a child when her stripper mother moved in with a member of the crew. When she was nine, her mother ran off, and Mat was forced to endure the attentions of her lecherous stepfather for six years until she was brusquely claimed as a girlfriend by Jayson, the ring crew chief. Nearly 20 years her senior and blessed with the emotional sensitivity of one of the roadshow's elephants, Jayson cheats on her, lies to her and drives off her friends. Mat, of course, moons over him. Finally, as she matures into her early 20s, she comes to see that she must somehow summon the grit-and the wit-to close the door not just on the affair but also on the grueling, casually cruel life of a roustabout. It's hard to know how to respond to such an incorruptibly innocent, exasperatingly childlike narrator; although it's impossible not to sympathize with her, it's also wearying to witness her doggy devotion and wait for her to grow out of it and into herself. Still, Chalfoun delivers a raw and vivid portrait of circus life and of the oddities of circus people. (Apr.)
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