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The Flying Circus


The Flying Circus

The first time I ever took my daughter on a real rollercoaster, we hung on tight while flying through the air with Goofy on the Barnstormer at Disney World. Goofy’s Barnstormer slid over roofs and took out chickens with an alarming alacrity, but real-life barnstormers never did such things (or maybe the bad ones did). In the 1920s, barnstorming was another way for those wafting into the Great Depression to blow off some steam, watching daredevils in newfangled flying machines racing through the skies. In Susan Crandall’s effective new novel, THE FLYING CIRCUS, a strange trio of characters take up the sport while trying to outrun personal hardships and a world that seems like it’s crashing down around their ears.

First, there’s Henry “Schuler” Jefferson, a fugitive fleeing a murder he may or may not have committed. Growing up in a familiy of German immigrants in the Midwest, he has endured all types of bias because of his German heritage. When his family dies, he is taken in by a local family --- a family filled with women who see him as an interloper and for whom the extension of caring and sympathy have no place in their relationship. Henry is on the road to Chicago, hoping to outrun the tragedies that mark the road behind him.

"Crandall has fashioned a flight of fancy, a read that will take you out of the usual everyday and cast you into a long-ago world that will offer you some awesome downtime."

Enter two new characters: Cora Rose Haviland and Charles “Gil” Gilchrist. Daredevil Cora races Gil, a former Army reconnaissance pilot, in a Jenny biplane. Their game of chicken ends when Cora crashes. Gil is a loner, quiet and contemplative but savvy, spending his time barnstorming, using his talents to land small planes in small towns, giving short rides for a mere pittance of $5 per flight. Cora hails from a wealthy family that has lost its enviable fortune in the worsening economic climate. She is fighting her mother’s plan to marry her off to some rich guy and a life of loveless wealth and security. Each of them is moving away from one thing into the unknown --- and so they move there together.

With Mercury, her sad little dog, Cora encourages the boys to form a flying circus called Mercury's Daredevils. With death-defying stunts in the biplane by Gil, the circus offers fun on the ground when Cora and Mercury perform stunts on their motorcycle. Henry becomes their mechanic, their announcer and, most importantly, their money collector. A love triangle ensues, and their plans for creating a stable environment come undone in significant increments as their pasts --- their pecunious and mercenary pasts --- catch up with them and are wrestled into the dirt by secrets and closely guarded alliances of the heart and mind.

The background flavor of THE FLYING CIRCUS offers a colorful and engaging set against which the challenges of the lives they are living now and have lived before come into conflict. The period details are rich and compelling, and the careful dissemination of information about the characters and their individual unique properties makes the book a fun read. Although there are hints throughout about the intense ending, there is no way that Crandall is going to tip her hat too early, which makes it almost a thriller, as the reader puts the story together piece by piece.

Crandall has fashioned a flight of fancy, a read that will take you out of the usual everyday and cast you into a long-ago world that will offer you some awesome downtime.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on July 24, 2015

The Flying Circus
by Susan Crandall

  • Publication Date: February 16, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • ISBN-10: 1476772169
  • ISBN-13: 9781476772165