My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An accomplished and beautifully written debut novel from an author from whom I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more. A coterie of circus “freaks,” a cynical helper monkey, and a seriously disturbed family all share the spotlight in this affecting tale of a circus clown named Webern who is losing his grip on sanity. Webern may be the protagonist, but it’s the female characters in his life who are the most interesting to me: Nepenthe, the reluctant “lizard girl” of the freak show; Bo-Bo, Webern’s outlandishly eccentric grandmother (who really should have been in the novel for longer than she was); and perhaps most of all, the twins Willow and Billow, Webern’s spooky, witchy sisters who share their own nonsense language, speak to others only in rhyme, and make art out of dead animals. While the characters are extraordinarily well drawn, I did find myself wishing there were more of a through-plot on which to hang my hat. But it’s not really that kind of novel. It’s far more interested in letting you explore its world at a leisurely pace, much like the sideshows to which it pays such loving homage. Well worth reading. I’m looking forward to whatever the author comes up with next!