4 out of 4 stars
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The Sword Swallower and a Chico Man by Gary Robinson is an entertaining and inspiring tale about two men from two different worlds who share a common outlook on life. Live in the moment. Don't look back. Don't worry about the future. That's the way to inner peace, right? The whole Zen "Be in the Now". For some it is. For others it is a slow and steady climb to a place where you are all alone. Where the next step leads to a scary fall.
No matter how many miles between them, Duke Reynolds always returned to the oddball "sideshow freaks" who originally took him under their wing. He had a few close friends scattered across the country, but the circus was family.
He first became entranced by the excitement and adrenaline of the circus train as it rolled into town. At age 15, he did what a lot of little boys of that era dreamed to do. He ran away and joined the circus. Never looking back.
But all that glitters is not gold. Duke loves his new life, but over the years something inside of him changes. He begins to struggle with his popularity, using drugs and alcohol to deal with it. How can he get back to the magic, the thrill of the performance? How can he get back to feeling alive?
Gary Robinson was an intelligent, popular high school student, who graduated valedictorian. Yet, he wrote a very dark speech where he quotes Charles Bukowski, "There will always be something to ruin our lives..." His was a dark and troubled soul. Fueled by the beginnings of alcoholism from the young age of 15. It was difficult for him to form lasting relationships. More than once he refers to "this" being the last time he would see someone.
The drinking and partying carried into college. On graduation day, he and his college buddies ditch graduation and head to Chico, California. Once there, they join right in to the festivities of Pioneer Days, partying for three solid days. When the party's over and it's time to leave, Gary decides to stay. As he wanders in and out of the streets, and in and out of jobs, it seems he just can't stay out of the limelight. Once again, Everybody Knows Gary. Once again, he's Popular for Dumb Stunts. He seems to just have a knack for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, making bad judgement calls. Drifting thru life with no purpose. Letting the chips fall where they may.
When Duke and Gary first met, Gary thought he had reached the proverbial rock bottom. Duke looked him in the eye and told him he was right. There was no place to go but up. Thus begins a friendship filled with meaningful companionship, and deep philosophical conversations. What would Gary do with his new found wisdom? Would Duke's influence make a lasting impression? Or would he return to his same, old self-destructive ways?
There were very few editing errors, and not so many as to interrupt the enjoyment of the read. Honestly, I didn't know I would be doing a review the first time I read it. That time was purely for pleasure. The story was so enjoyable that my normal editing pet peeves didn't jump out at me. I barely noticed them. I had to do a special read focused on finding them just for the purpose of this review.
I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. It is highly entertaining, suspenseful, funny, a little sad at times, and there's some life lessons in there that sneak up on you. It was easy to read. I will read it again one day. I could not find anything that I did not like about it. I encourage you to read this if you are looking for something that will inspire you and fill you with hope, while occasionally causing you to glance around to see if anyone noticed the tear that just sneaked out your eye.
I recommend this for more mature readers due to some of the adult situations, extensive drug and alcohol use, graphic scenes and language. Nothing too harsh for adults, but not for children or teenagers.
The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid
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