4 out of 4 stars
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Why is it that some people’s lives seem to be driven by reckless abandonment and destructive behaviour? What magnetic force can possibly draw people to entangle themselves with vices like drugs, alcohol and abusive relationships? The Sword Swallower and A Chico Kid will help to shed some light on many of these questions by portraying the experiences from the point of view of two broken souls who play a prominent role within the book. Although this is classified as a work of “fiction” the stories that take place are heavily influenced by real life events experienced by the author.
This book is divided into two parts; the first is where we’re introduced to Duke Reynolds and all the events that occur chronicle his early life as a hopeless young boy, to the climax of his career as a world class dare-devil, to the ultimate receding of his presence from the world stage. One thing I immediately took note of was how much of an oddball Duke Reynolds was, his choice of “profession” wasn’t only unorthodox but his overall lifestyle was blazingly defiant for the social norms of the 1960s. Although it is shown that the source of Duke’s reckless behaviour stems from the neglect he experienced from his family, the domestic neglect is what pushes him to seek assuaging from the circus in the first place.
Despite many of Duke’s shortcomings, his optimism and overall love for his circus family made it hard for me to dislike him. In fact many times I found myself routing for Duke and hoping things would work out for him when he entangled himself in many disastrous situations. Within part two of the novel we are introduced to Gary Robinson and everything else is seen and experienced through his perspective. I’ll admit I personally didn’t take to Gary very well as he reminded me of the kinds of people who tend to get on my nerve. What helped me soften to him was seeing how the author connected Gary’s present destructive behaviour to his past unstable family home.
This is the underlining theme throughout the book, that no matter how dire a situation one may be born into, with the right people to support you; it’s possible to have a second chance. Duke encapsulates it best, though he may have not have been functioning in the real world; when it came to the circus he was a totally different person. Taking on responsibilities and working with efficiency under the extremely stressful conditions of the circus, putting others before himself and showing a soft vulnerable side that his adoring fans would never see.
As much as I loved this book there were two major drawbacks that I didn’t like. One of them being that this book is littered with profanity. It’s a pet peeve of mine to read cursing in books and I find it distasteful. The second drawback for me was how the novel ended, it was abrupt and it felt too made-up even for “fiction” standards.
Overall I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. This is really a well written book and it goes very deep in discussing many topics like religion, love, friendship and numerous other philosophical subjects that was pleasantly surprising for me.
The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid
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