Suite for Calliope: A Novel of Music and the Circus

Ellen Hunnicutt, Author
Ellen Hunnicutt, Author Walker & Company $17.95 (255p) ISBN 978-0-8027-0965-3
Reviewed on: 06/26/1987
Release date: 07/01/1987
Both whimsy and wisdom are present in this delightful first novel, a finalist for the Maxwell Perkins Prize, whose author also received the Drue Heinz Prize for Literature. In fresh, resonant prose, Hunnicutt tells the story of Ada (later Norma) Cunningham, who overcomes the death of her mother, her father's insanity, an aunt's dementia, her own physical disabilities and assorted vicissitudes of life on the run to find her metier as a composer and her safe harbor in a community of retired circus folk. Ranging back and forth in time between the details of Ada's childhood and teenage years in the little town of Richmount, Ind., and her present circumstances and new identity among a group of elderly but feisty circus veterans, the novel has a stock of vivid characters and engrossing episodes. Hunnicutt skillfully interpolates musical details integral to the narrative, and she poses intriguing questions about genius and creativity. Unfortunately, some of the plot twists are ""too preposterous to be true,'' as Ada herself describes her life, and there are a few too many melodramatic incidents. Hunnicutt does not yet have the sure touch of magic that Anne Tyler is able to inject into similar characters and situations; but she is on her way. This is an auspicious debut. (July 1)
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