4 out of 4 stars
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The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid by Gary Robinson is a book about damaged people trying to repair themselves. The two main characters of the book start out as two substance-abusing outcasts desperately trying to find their way in life, and they learn to find happiness through meeting each other.
This book is divided into three separate parts that tell three separate stories, though the characters remain the same. The first story introduces us to Duke Reynolds, a sword swallower who wandered into the circus life at a very young age. He cast his old life away and joined the misfit group of performers, performing his sword-swallowing trick to make money. When he's not sword-swallowing, he's fueling his addiction to drugs and alcohol. He gets himself into trouble, barely makes enough money to get by, and has no other family besides his circus family. After we finish Duke’s story, we then are introduced to Gary Robinson, a college student whose dreams have long been crushed by his drug and alcohol addictions. He spends most of his time drinking, partying, and leading his life into a downward spiral. Only after meeting Duke in the third story does Gary’s life start improving as he follows Duke’s wisdom as a man who has gone down a similar path many years before.
I thought the three-story structure of this novel worked well in allowing the author to spend time developing the two main characters, Duke and Gary. The first story exists to set up Duke’s character and show the readers the events that have defined his life. We observe how Duke's alcohol addiction takes its toll on his life and why he tries desperately to get Gary away from this lifestyle. Likewise, the second story allows readers to take a glimpse at Gary’s self-destructive lifestyle. He is portrayed as a character who had several opportunities to get on the right track but always seems to revert back to his bad lifestyle. I could definitely see why Gary and Duke would form such a strong bond by the time their stories have ended. They share many similarities with each other, and Duke has plenty to teach the young Gary about how to fix his life.
I also enjoyed how the author developed the relationships that characters have with each other, even if they have a very minor effect on the plot. For example, I could feel how much Duke cared about his circus family through the interactions he had with them. They may have been misfits, but they acted like a real family, which made it all the more painful to read when Duke was eventually separated from them. I could also see why Gary and Angel established such a connection since the two of them work well off each other. I do wish that these two had more scenes together to really establish them as a couple, however. They only share a few scenes with each other, and it would have been nice to see them together more often, considering how much of a connection they seemed to make.
Honestly, the only negative that I have about this book is that the first part seemed to be a bit too slow and meandering at first. However, this is quickly rectified as the reader begins to know more about Duke as a character and the events that shaped most of his life. The slow pace became necessary for the reader to learn about both Duke and Gary, and by the end of the story, it does pay off. With this in mind, I definitely rate this book a 4 out of 4 stars. The book is well edited, with only a few comma problems scattered throughout the text, and the story is enjoyable for those who like slow-paced stories with strong characters.
I would recommend this book for those who are 17 and older. The book includes many instances of drug and alcohol abuse and profanity, so I would not recommend it to anyone younger. This book will be excellent for readers who can look past these things, for it provides a very strong and well-written story.
The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid
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