cover image Maud’s Circus

Maud’s Circus

Michelle Rene. Michelle Rene, $18.99 trade paper (324p) ISBN 978-1-63732-076-1

Rene’s well-crafted latest (after Hour Glass) imagines the life of Maud Wagner, the first female tattoo artist in North America. At 16 in 1893, Maud Stevens lives with her violent religious mother and sexually abusive uncle in Emporia, Kans. She admires the freedom and independence of a tattooed woman who speaks at a dime museum in her town, sparking her to run away and join a traveling circus. By the next year, she’s performing as a contortionist and aerialist, reveling in the attention, the free lifestyle, and the beauty of the cities they visit. Ten years later she meets tattoo artist Gus Wagner at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. She barters a date with Gus in exchange for a tattoo and lessons on the craft, and they marry. He covers her entire body in tattoos, and as she becomes a tattooist in her own right, Rene offers evocative descriptions of hand-poked tattooing. Maud has a feisty spirit and plenty of perseverance as she deals with a near disaster involving her daughter, Lotteva, in a fire, and running a tattoo booth with the Ringling Brothers. Rene convinces with her descriptions of the circus atmosphere, and of its appeal to Maud (“There was a deep need to belong here in a world of freedom and color”). Readers will enjoy this fast-paced, witty drama. (Self-published)