I kept calling it my dam book. It took me so long to get into it! I have so many books I want read right now - and this one was blocking the way to all those books...like a dam! I had heard a lot of good about it and so I didn't want to give up on it, but I just couldn't get into it. I don't know if it was my own lack of focus or weak reading muscles, or just the demands of everything else during the holidays, but it took me forever to get through the first 100 pages. That was when I really got into it. If I was bold enough to give the author some advice, I'd recommend he tighten up the beginning of the book. It basically describes Sullivan's boring and sad life, for 100 pages. After page 100 he runs off with the circus. It becomes very compelling and easier to stick with!
One sad aspect of the book is how Sullivan is kind of nobody. He has a best friend, Norval Simick, but they aren't the kind of friends who hang out at each other's house and are friends on Facebook. They just knew each other at school. Besides the bully, Samuel Patinsky, no one else seems to even notice when Sullivan is gone. They have a cold and impersonal assembly to tell all the kids that he has "died" and then they raise the flag to full height from half mast, and on life goes. Even though Samuel is a bully, it seems like it's the one ray of hope that at least someone knew him - even if he was a bully to him. His parents don't even go looking for him. And the owners of the circus are just plain mean. The only hope is his little sister - and he hasn't always been that nice to her. It is a hopeless situation!
In fact, Sullivan and his story are so bland that they’re not really the focus of the book. The book’s focus, really, is how the other people in his life react to his disappearance. His only friend, Norval, for example, develops a strong friendship with repentant school bully Samuel Patinsky because of Sullivan’s disappearance; and without Sullivan to bully, Samuel finds himself reassessing his king-of-the-schoolyard ways. Sullivan, in a way, is almost an anti-character. It’s not Sullivan, really, that moves the book along: it’s his absence. It’s a risky approach, and to be honest, it was until the last quarter of so of the book that I actually began to appreciate what Fagan was attempting to do here. In large part I think this was because I felt somehow that the writing had a sort of dead, toneless feel to it. No matter the neat plotting and tidily distinguished characters propping up the big top of the narrative, the book just felt flat to me, and I found that I was trying to convince myself to care.Here entire review is here. It's really quite good. This book brings up so many questions!! There are many quotable parts of the book that are great fodder for discussion.
There are moments in lifew hen, even as you are determined to do something, you know that it is wrong. You may not know why and so you dismiss the feelingas cowardice or laziness or some other personal failing, rather than for waht is is - a warnng from some deep part of the brain. (Chapter 7, page 83)I loved the way the author described performing:
There is a moment, just before curtain, when a transformation takes place, when players leave behind their ordinary beings and become their larger, dramatic selves. It happens whether the stage is large or small, the audience a handful or in the thousands. It happens whether the actors are famous or unknown. And although he could not have described it in words, Sullivan felt it happen. He even saw it in Master Melville's face just before going on - he became eager, smiling and confident.It reminded me so much of life as a teacher. It's like performing!
Sullivan is talking to Mistress Melville, the female head of the circus bunch, about his act they have put together:
"You thought of this because I Look so ordinary. Because it seems like there's nothing special at all about me." (Chapter 19, p. 222)She goes on to say that the audience will love it and that they love seeing something who makes mistakes, who is accidental, who then surprises them with his skill. She was right. Perhaps we love that kind of thing because we all feel a little ordinary and have a hard time showing the greatness that really is in each of us. I MUST read book 2 now. If only I could figure out what book 2 is!
UPDATE: I emailed Cary Fagan and happily, he responded very quickly! The second book is due to be out in February. I think I will go pre-order it! It is called The Show to End All Shows