3 out of 4 stars
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The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid by Gary Robinson is a book about two misfits. One a sideshow celebrity and the other yearning to be a hero and a leader. Although a generation apart, they are each looking for the same things: a sense of community, a purpose in life, and ultimately a love to share their hopes and dreams. Since neither of the main characters can find any simple solutions to these desires, they instead turn to the quick fix of drugs and alcohol. As is often the case, their addictions lead to a downward spiral of disappointment and pain until they each finally hit rock bottom.
Ultimately, I think this book is really about the search for love as a means of salvation — the love of being a misfit, the love of community and belonging, and the love of genuine friendship. If you read the book with this in mind, then you will find beautiful phrases of wisdom scattered throughout.
The author has a knack for viscerally describing various scenes throughout the book whether they are light and cheerful or dark and depressing. One of the most entertaining and moving aspects of the entire book was the camaraderie and sense of community among the circus freaks. Now, where this book truly shines is in the words of wisdom scattered throughout. They remind us that it is okay to be a misfit and that addictions are not the solution. Here are a few examples:
- “Yesterday is just a memory. It’s gone.”
- “There is an old saying regarding addictions: The first time you use the drug; you spend the rest of your life trying to get back to the sensation you had the first time taking it.”
- “Show me an alcoholic, and I will show you a single man!”
- “Listen to your heart! Fulfill your dreams.”
Unfortunately, the most significant fault that I have with this book is that multiple scenes go far beyond the realm of possibility for me:
- The entire 12 spider monkey scene was ridiculous. Why?
- A highly functional and successful college student who is both a drunk and a cocaine addict?
- A museum curator is hiring two known deadbeat drunks to act as cleaners/security guards for the night?
- A long period where the main character goes without cocaine/alcohol and doesn’t show any adverse signs of withdrawal?
- A lifelong meth addiction without any adverse side effects?
I had a love/hate relationship with this book. The frequent words of wisdom throughout were thoughtfully done, and we can all learn something from them. The sense of community amongst the circus freaks and the disabled kids were genuinely moving. I also really enjoyed the descriptions of destruction, hope, and renewal by the main characters. However, the multiple absurd scenes in the book and the poor use of supporting characters turned me off. Despite the negatives, it’s a relatively short read so I’d give it a [3 out of 4 stars].
Concerning the editing of the book, there were a few grammatical errors with the following few exceptions:
In several areas, some footnotes seem to be for the writer rather than the reader:
- Location 1599 of 3791: “The bus rolled passed hearse after hearse” [A1].
- Location 1783 of 3791: “…my best friends, Mike Blinkley and Ron DiMaggio [A2]
- Location 1616 of 3791
- Location 1624 of 3791
- Location 3138 of 3791
To sum up, if you feel like you are a freak, a misfit, or general social outcast, then this book is probably for you. The tales of drug and alcohol abuse, crime, personal destruction, sex (veering into the realms of potentially implied bestiality) often skirt the edges of the absurd. However, the author says, “Credo quia absurdum est” which translates to “Believe it because it is absurd.” If you can get past the absurdities throughout the book, you will discover an incredible journey of hope and ultimately redemption.
The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid
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