cover image Spangle: Gary Jennings

Spangle: Gary Jennings

Gary Jennings. Atheneum Books, $21.95 (869pp) ISBN 978-0-689-11723-7

Jennings (Aztec, The Journeyer) spent considerable time accompanying modern circuses to write this long historical novel that begins wth one conflict on the American continentthe Civil Warand ends vividly with another, in Europethe Franco-Prussian War. After the Confederate Army lays down its weapons at Appomattox two ex-rebel soldiers join up with the ragtag Florilegium circus making its way through the back towns of war-torn Virginia. The circus's leader, an Alsatian named Florian, tours with the unusual international players and their seedy animals. Desiring grand success, they cross the sea to rival the big tops of Europe, and journey from Italy, through the Germanic countries, over to Russia and finally to France. Along the way, performers join and leave, or are killed through dangerous stunts and misfortunes; amorous affairs among the multinational circus people begin and, often tragically, end; the royalty of Europe shares confidences with the entertainers; and Florilegium is transformed from small-town American carnival to major European circus. Spangle is a novel about a spectacle, but the reader's hope that it will acquire momentum is not quite fulfilledat least until its stirring look at the invaded France of 1870. Jennings does provide intriguing circus lore, and he retells 19th century social history as if it were unfolding news. Those who value solid historical research and do not require more than minor drama will find this hefty novel well worth the read. 100,000 first printing; Literary Guild main selection. (November 10)