4 out of 4 stars
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The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid by Gary Robinson tells the story of two very different men and how they connect over personal stories and the fact that they both were functioning in society as drug addicts. The first part of the book tells the story of Duke Reynolds, who made his living by working in the circus sideshow and performing sword swallowing in front of audiences for many years. It shows that he worked hard and developed an unfortunate drug problem to combat the fact that working in the circus is extremely hard and that the workers could end up working 20 hours or more putting things together for a show. Duke does try other forms of work through the years when the circus closes down, but he still did sword swallowing for a while until he had an accident.
As for the other man, Gary Robinson, it shows what his young life was like once he left high college. He did attempt to go to college, but he faced a lot of alcohol and drug problems himself. Even though he graduated, he struggled with finding work since in the end he always questioned his sense of purpose and what he was doing in his life. It is in Chico, California where things seem to get better for him for a while. However, in a moment of public drunkenness, he finds himself at an awful moment where is basically at his wit's end. At that moment when it seems that everything can only get worse, he comes across Duke Reynolds in a bar and becomes captivated by the older man that is covered in tattoos and is talking about feats that he would do in his days working with the circus.
The last part focuses on the friendship and bond that is formed between Duke and Gary. Kind of like Duke is imparting knowledge on to Gary like a mentor, especially since they have both faced similar trials with their drug problems. Duke's philosophy of life is a strength that he imparts upon Gary, that he should focus on today and not worry about yesterday or tomorrow. It is this mentorship that encourages Gary to follow this passion of becoming a writer since it is what makes him happy.
I really enjoyed the fact that this was based on the author's personal life and his friendship with Duke. It makes a book like this much more interesting, especially knowing that it is based on real people. Realistic fiction a lot of times seems to be a hit or miss for me, but the fact that the author pretty much comes out and explains that this book is based on him and Duke makes it a lot easier to follow. It almost seems like it could be made into a movie since the feeling of the mentorship would correlate well, the only thing is that a lot of things would have to be embellished and over exaggerated.
It is in my opinion that this book deserves a score of 4 out of 4 stars. It was well done and felt believable. The language could be a bit coarse since it was explicit, but it seemed to go with the story and scenarios that were portrayed. My favorite part was when Gary and Duke started bonding as friends and traveling together because it gave a sense of how they viewed each other. This was a great way for the author to honor his friend.
In the future, I would be interested in reading more works by Gary Robinson. His views of the world are very direct and raw in a way that shows that he isn't afraid to show the more negative side of life. I will be keeping my eyes open for his future books, especially if they cover the life of another interesting individual. Thank you for sharing this story with me.
The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid
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