This was a great book. It’s about a family of circus freaks, the Binewskis. For them freakishness is a valuable trait, and normalcy is looked down upon. The novel is mostly looking back at the children’s childhood, leading to the circus’s collapse.
It’s a book about family, and it would be easy to find a metaphor, something about family as deformity, family as the damage that we all carry around as adults, but I don’t think that’s a particularly inspired reading. Looking at the metaphor and trying to universalize would be a disservice, I am against anything that leaves behind the glorious specific weirdness of these characters. Dunn creates rich characters, who have psyches rooted in their flesh. The novel has a very vivid setting, with the circus hovering just below the more mundane world, darker and more colorful.
The way the story is framed is excellent, giving us a little bit at a time. Dunn gives the reader pieces of the ending very early on, but the way it unfolds keeps us in suspense, teasing the coming disaster bit by bit. It builds to a final choice, and a final revelation, which is absolutely marvelous. An excellent unique book.