David Toscana, Author , trans. from the Spanish by Patricia J. Duncan. St. Martin's/ Dunne $23.95 (244p) ISBN 978-0-312-27116-9

A group of eight stranded circus performers colonize an abandoned town in this darkly humorous and poignantly allegorical novel by Mexican writer Toscana (Tula Station). A squabble between the two founders of the Mantecón Brothers Circus, Don Alejo and Don Ernesto, results in the split-up of performers and assets. When Don Alejo and the five men and three women left in his charge trudge into an abandoned town, they decide to become ordinary citizens, and the results are ludicrously serious. They rename the town Santa Maria of the Circus and hold a drawing to pick occupations. The midget, who cannot remember the Mass, is a priest. The bearded lady becomes a doctor, and the contortionist must play the role of Negro, and do all the work no one else wants to do. The paunchy strong man is discomfited but willing when he is assigned to be the town whore. Don Alejo, the only one who refuses to participate in the plan, secludes himself in the big top with his performing pig in its velveteen robe. Hungry and half-mad, the ex-performers sink periodically into self-gratifying reminiscences, only to awake to a fast-deteriorating reality. When Don Ernesto happens back with his half of the circus, the rest of the troupe is changed beyond recognition. Astringent, remorseless and spectacularly strange, this is a cunning social satire, a wise and wonderful companion to Charles G. Finney's immortal Circus of Dr. Lao. (Sept.)

Forecast:More accessible than the well-received but forbiddingly metafictional Tula Station, this clever and smoothly translated novel should stimulate interest in its impressive young Mexican author.

Reviewed on: 07/30/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
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