4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
A few anchoring points in life are often necessary to properly orient ourselves. Lacking these strings, we tend to drift like a piece of paper caught in the wind. Gary Robinson’s life had probably been something akin to that before he chanced to meet Duke Reynolds, the famous sword-swallower. The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid is the life story of the author himself. The character of Duke Reynolds was based on Don Leslie, his real-life acquaintance. The book consists of three parts, the first two narrating the lives of Duke and Gary, respectively. The final part shows their friendship and the resultant profound change in Gary’s previously aimless life.
While reading, every moment felt like a new adventure. I started each new page without knowing whether the end of that page would find me smiling or in tears. I frequently pondered how it would feel to experience such a colorful and eventful life.
This, however, does not mean that life was rosy for Duke and the other sideshows. Robinson provides ample glimpses into the stark reality behind the engaging performances the circus offers. For instance, the performers cannot even spare a single moment mourning the demise of their fellows, because “the show must go on.” Moreover, it was disconcerting to see the circus authorities giving out free methamphetamine to the employees to help them cope with the back-breaking schedule.
The humorous instances adorning Duke and Gary’s lives provided a significant contrast to the otherwise grim circumstances. A couple of times, I could not even decide whether to be annoyed at their reckless behavior or be amused at their jokes.
The descriptions of sword-swallowing deserve particular mention. To the author’s credit, I never found these scenes repetitive. Every time the act was described, I found myself holding my breath, praying for Duke’s safety.
Characterization was undoubtedly a strong feat of this book. Duke is one of those people who can excel at anything they decide to try. Gary himself describes the sword-swallower as the embodiment of self-reliance. I liked his notions of God and the scriptures. I admired his logical mind and risk-taking behavior. However, one thing I absolutely could not tolerate was his addiction to meth. However, no matter how imperfect and flawed Duke was, he was a reliable and sincere friend. I also experienced a deep sense of sympathy for Gary, our other protagonist. As a troubled kid, he was in the clutches of alcohol. Throughout the book, I was pining to see him achieve some control over his life.
The best part about the book was the utter honesty Robinson’s accounts exuded. Gary related his reckless life without any inhibition. He vowed to take up writing in the hope of changing someone else’s life, and he remained truthful to his promises.
I do not have many negative points to mention. The narrative relating Duke’s life sounded a little flat compared to the second part of the book. In addition, the author incorporated a couple of page-long quotes that could have been presented in a more easy-to-grasp way. However, those aspects did not at all detract from my reading experience.
This book deserves 4 out of 4 stars. Very few typing errors suggest it was professionally edited. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs and character-driven books. However, most readers would find the instances of alcohol and drug abuse bothersome. Additionally, devout believers of God might be offended by Duke’s concepts. Apart from those, this book has been a very fulfilling read.
The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon
Like Shrabastee's review? Post a comment saying so!