Narrated by David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones
Publisher: HighBridge Audio
Category: Modern Lit
Synopsis: Elderly Jacob Jankowski looks back at the summer he, at the age of 23, spent at The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a circus travelling across America during the great depression. The story starts out with a murder in the menagerie with the story alternating between the elderly Jacob and the young Jacob, telling us how we got to the murder.
My Thoughts: Wow! Just WOW! Definitely one of my favourite books of the year. I laughed, I cried, I gasped. So awesome!
The story about Jacob and Marlena and the summer they met at the circus is magnificently told, but my favourite part is without a shadow of a doubt the interludes with Jacob at 90…or 93. They moved me the most, perhaps because I occasionally work in a nursing home. Those section made me smile (I have a feeling I would have loved the cantankerous Jacob) but they also made me profoundly upset. They way he is treated by some of the staff is beyond appalling. Rosemary was a delight.
I’m not really a fan of the circus, never have been, but this book really captured me because the characters felt sympathetic and real. Jacob seemed like such a nice innocent guy who really just wanted to do the right thing. The other characters are less fleshed out but still interesting and evoke emotion, from disgust at August, to sympathy for Walter and Camel. These characters add to the tapestry that one expects at a circus in depression era America.
By placing the story in this time period Gruen manages to add several different menacing forces: there is the greed of Uncle Al; the madness of August; the circus itself; and the danger of being unemployed at this time in history. At the same time the narrative of Jacob at 90…or 93 adds another danger to the character. All of these different forces then strike in rapid fashion signalling the imminent climax of the story. A climax that is signalled with the murder at the start but is still very satisfactory. It is one of those times when the journey is far more important than the end goal. In addition the story manages to serve up a surprising but very satisfying ending, although if I hadn’t been driving while listening I would probably have been bawling my eyes out.
Audio production: For me the narration was what made the story. David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones manage to really make both young and old Jacob come to life. John Randolph Jones IS the elderly Jacob. He makes you feel the indignation, confusion and anger of the old man. He makes you laugh with him and cry for him. And in the end you root for that determined old man who has told you a fantastically scary, beautiful, wonderful, disturbing and and difficult story.
I am so grateful to my friend Colleen for recommending the audio production of this book, and in turn I will extend the same recommendation to you.
The book is now a movie (a fact I’m sure no one has missed )