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The Blue Moon Circus takes to the center ring

By Richard Hunt · May 28th, 2003 · The Fine Print

Remember when you were a kid and you were torqued off about some injustice done to you by your overbearing, uncaring parents so you notified them you were going to run away to join the circus? Remember other times when you were a difficult-to-handle child and those same parents coolly suggested you run away to join the circus?

We probably should have listened. That is, if the circus we'd gone in search of would have been half as colorful and engaging as Michael Raleigh's Blue Moon Circus.

Lewis Tully is an original barnstorming "gonna put on a show" kind of guy. The reader first comes across Tully, Shelby (his right hand man) and the rest of the circus crew as a mudslide wipes out their traveling troupe. Flash forward five years, Tully commences to scratch the circus itch he's been feeling all along. A dozen letters to friends and former sideshow acts, plus a few search-and-rescue parties later, shazaam -- the Blue Moon Circus is born.

What a grand and glorious conflagration of personalities, sub-plots and perfume (both ladies and animal) this phoenix undertaking is.

Once gathered, it takes time, sweat, paint, animals of all sorts, rope, canvas and a lot of determination to turn a truly motley crew into a tight-knit group of performers.

The final ingredient that makes the book go is Charlie, an orphan shipped west by Tully's sister so he can grow up under the tutelage of males. Tully and Shelby were orphans, too, way back when. Although their empathy and protective instincts are intact, their attention is focused on breathing life into the big top.

Through Charlie's eyes, the stage is set for a coming-of-age story entwined with the drama of keeping the Blue Moon Circus tracing a crooked line across Kansas, through Wyoming and into Montana, a race against the seasons, the odds and the bad guys. This fine book has all the stuff that makes a small town stand on notice, watching the spectacle of the parade as the most jaw-dropping event that ever rolled into town.

For all the noise, bluster and excitement of Michael Raleigh, William Trevor is controlled and understated, as careful with the details, vocal inflections and mannerisms as Sherlock Holmes. Trevor is a modern prose master. Just as a foreign film reveals the silliness and conventions of Hollywood, his fiction reveals its European sensibility.

After Rain, although not his most recent volume, is a wonderful starter book. Skilled at both the short story and the novel, Trevor's writing is as sublime as the Irish landscape. He's without peer in terms of capturing a life and mind in turmoil in a dozen pages. If After Rain moves you to pick up his volume of collected stories, it would be a time well spent.

Sometimes you just have to step slightly out of your skin to experience a little rush. For instance, turn off the tube, call up some friends and break out a fresh deck of cards for some poker. This is the time to move beyond the armchair adventure and dive in yourself.

Recommended for anyone tossing some silver onto the just-cleared and wiped-down kitchen table, you might want to consult Phil Hellmuth's Play Poker Like the Pros before the guests (or marks, depending on your expected take) arrive. A seven-time winner of the World Series of Poker, Hellmuth's record speaks for his authority on the subject. Even better, his instruction is straightforward and understandable. Granted, playing nickel ante isn't going to make or break anything but when you might be doing laundry next. A perfect summer-night-on-the-porch escape while the bugs tap Morse code on the screens, or a deep-in-the-cool-basement dive to get emancipated from the sticky heat in Cin City. Ante up, dear readers. Phil's got a hot hand, and he's dealing. Read 'em or weep.



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