Following in the footsteps of her tiger-taming grandmother, a woman flees her abusive husband to join the circus in this masterful, heartfelt work of women’s fiction.
Peggy Webb won raves for her debut novel, The Tender Mercy of Roses*, with novelist Pat Conroy calling her “a truly gifted writer.” Now Webb has crafted a poignant portrayal of a woman on the edge seeking solace in the past.
Nobody in the family talks about Ellen’s grandmother Lola, who was swallowed up by the circus and emerged as a woman who tamed tigers and got away scot-free for killing her husband. When Ellen’s husband, Wayne, beats her nearly to death, she runs to the only place she knows where a woman can completely disappear—the same Big Top that once sheltered her grandmother. Though the circus moves from one town to the next, Wayne tracks it, and Ellen, relentlessly. At the same time, Ellen learns more about her feisty, fiery relative, and the heritage that is hers for the taking—if she dares. With her violent husband hot on her trail, Ellen must learn to stand up and fight for herself, to break the cycle of abuse, and pass down a story of love and redemption to her children.
*writing as Anna Michaels
You wouldn't think a story about spousal abuse could be magical, but that's what the prolific Webb (The Sweetest Hallelujah) has accomplished with this page-turning novel about Ellen Blair, a battered wife in the early 1970s Deep South who takes to the road with a traveling circus. The peripatetic lifestyle is practically in Ellen's DNA: her grandmother Lola joined the very same troupe during the Depression, performing as a tiger tamer before dying of TB. The book paints Ellen's marriage in grim detail, showing how easily her outwardly charming, successful husband turns into a monster behind closed doors. Webb's disturbing portrait of abuse is balanced by the wit and whimsy supplied by Ellen's eccentric great-aunt, Ruth Gibson, who uses her power of second sight to help Ellen escape a desperate situation. The growing friendship between Ellen and the circus people, who hire her to teach their children, restores an optimistic note to the novel. She becomes particularly close to Nicky, a little boy left literally speechless after witnessing his mother's death during an act. In the end, Webb demonstrates that both Nicky and Ellen see themselves as more than just survivors of tragedy.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Peggy Webb's ability to paint a picture with words is awe-inspiring. I found myself immediately pulled into the story and found the book impossible to put down. Those looking for a truly heart-felt, amazing read should definitely add The Language of Silence to their TBR pile.