SIDE SHOW: My Life with Geeks, Freaks and Vagabonds in the Carny Trade

Howard Bone, Author, Daniel Waldron, With, Teller, Foreword by SIDE SHOW: My Life with Geeks, Freaks and Vagabonds in the $12.95 (137p) ISBN 978-0-941543-28-6

Bone, who spent most of his life working in carnival side shows, is touted by his publisher as the ultimate backstage guide, though he actually reveals very little in this posthumous volume, which has the enticing yet sleazy feel of a carny con. Time and again, Bone starts describing some fabulous act of his—the Blindfolded Drive, the Man Who Can't Be Hung—and then, in a classic bait and switch, cuts away without telling how it was done. Yet the book remains compulsively readable. The foreword from comedian Teller (of Penn & Teller) offers an amusing carny-meets-St. Peter joke that establishes the book's sense of tantalizing mystery. The narrative, which reads like a rambling conversation over too many beers, sketches in the rough outlines of Bone's career, from his days as an "inside talker" who lured audiences to watch geek acts (i.e., the Man Who Bites the Head Off a Chicken) to his stints in athletic or "at' shows," where he would fight anyone who volunteered to enter the ring. He also appeared in various torture acts and even performed a dash of magic. Each episode includes colorful vocabulary, which Bone explains as he goes along (there is also a glossary). Apart from all the hoopla, it's Bone's sad but un-self-pitying life that draws readers in. A broke bum when he joined his first side show, Bone died in a dreary V.A. hospital as a broke old man. He had few friends who lasted longer than a carny circuit, and he abandoned a wife and three children along the way. Straight life just didn't have much pull for Bone, who was more at home with the "itchy feet, gypsy souls, and vagabond hearts" of the carny world. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/09/2001
Release date: 01/01/2001
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