Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: Life After a Day at the Circus

The Greatest Show: Stories
By Michael Downs

181 pages. Louisiana State University Press  (March 15, 2012)

Visit The Greatest Show here.
“What difference would one day make, one day away?”

Ania asks herself, and slips two circus tickets in the waistband of her skirt.

The Greatest Show collects ten poignantly crafted stories that showcase the difference one day can make. Connected by the 1944 circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut, the powerful characters take center stage in stories spanning six decades.

The collection opens with Ania, the story of an immigrant housekeeper and her young family. With her husband, Charlie, overseas fighting the war, Ania steals two tickets and takes her three-year son Teddy to a matinee circus show. When a fire engulfs the main tent, they cannot escape the flames. Laced with raw emotion, Ania struggles to overcome her mistakes and adjust her expectations.

Ex-husband, Years Removed pulls mourners together for the funeral of a woman claimed by the fire. Her brother, Nick, and her former husband, Gal, reconnect and share their grief after the service. As old secrets rise out of the ashes, he finds a cathartic, new understanding of his still beloved ex-wife, his failed marriage and even himself. Gal’s sister, Lena, befriends Nick, foreshadowing romance to emerge from disaster.

The curious story of Mrs. Liszak weaves the visible facial scars of a long-ago fire with the invisible emotional scars of Suzanne, a thrice-abandoned teen. At the Beach paints the portrait of a budding affair. Downs repeatedly folds in unexpected elements with Elephant featuring the father-son relationship between Charlie and Teddy.

With The Greatest Show, Downs builds anticipation not unlike walking the tightrope. Modern-day performers and audience alike unite around incomprehensible events and begin to heal. Together, they form a collection of stories about remembering, forgetting, and the tenacity of our shared experience to pull us through the pain.

Surprisingly uplifting and replete with compassion, Downs reveals the dignity of the human spirit and our unyielding ability to love. Each piece stands alone; then slides into place in a larger jigsaw puzzle. Like performances in the big tent, every new act captivates with dazzling dexterity and complexity.

The Greatest Show explores the theme of visibility versus what is hidden from view: physical scars versus emotional injury. Captivated by life rather than loss, he breathes fresh air into his honest portrayal of relatable characters as readers settle in for a well-told story.
"Our sense of the day fades. We're left with a few facts, a recollection of dread and joy, and a sense that every damn thing disappears too quickly. Lucky us."

Lucky us, indeed.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mustaches & Misunderstandings

Deadlines are hanging around my neck and I need a good laugh. So today features a few snapshots of family life inspired by recent blogs.

Glennon’s hilarious parent-teacher conference post reminded me of  the endearing things kids say or do at school.

Almost ten years ago, my 3-year old son and I were walking through a store parking lot in Houston when we passed a very tall black man heading to his car. He says LOUDLY “That’s a big, black f@%k.” I tripped and look down HORRIFIED only to find him pointing at this gigantic Texas-sized jacked-up shiny pickup truck. Too embarrassed to ask, I'm not sure if the man was laughing at the cute kid or his wide-eyed pale mother.

If you too need a pair, 
find them at Amazon.
This same boy at two-years old created his own curse word. I know, he is a special one. He didn’t have the language for “f@%#ing a$&#0!e”, so he made up “bodo.” The pre-school teacher thought it was adorable, until she realized my translation was spot-on correct. Special, right?

Mir’s post on super-nerdy socks hit home and had me NEEDING some fabulous new socks.

I loved it so much that I surfed Amazon and blew $60 on funky socks with capes, mustaches and lightening bolts. Fortunately, only my eleven-year old (and former potty mouth) helped with the selections, or we might have racked up quite a bill.

A few days later the magic box with an arrow arrived filled with an assortment of weird fabulous socks: my favorites, a yellow pair with black mustaches, a red pair with lightning bots, a lavender pair with unicorns, and three caped wonders featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Pretty cool, huh?

My nine-year-old loved the mustache socks and immediately put them on. When his older brother got home and saw the socks on the counter, he shrieked, “Where’s the mustache ones?” Before I responded, he raced off to find his little brother. I had no idea they would be such a hit.

Next came the shrieking and the laughing. My kids got into a wrestling war to rip them off each other’s feet while screaming like barbarians. Happy screaming complete with dragging bodies, flaying arms and legs, and raucous giggles. Even the dog got in on the action, but I am pretty sure he didn’t end up with the socks.