Picks and Pans Review: Spangle

updated 03/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Gary Jennings

It is difficult to resist a book about the circus, and this one is more than incidentally seductive. The latest by the author of Aztec, it is historical fiction of the pop-epic variety, the tale of a 19th-century circus troupe whose adventures take them from the post-Civil War South to the capitals of Europe. It is a lavish offering, fat with a miscellaneous band of engaging characters—tightrope walkers, trapeze artists, bareback riders, lion tamers, acrobats, freaks, dwarfs, clowns and daredevils of every color. What the recital lacks in the way of drama—there is no plot to speak of—it makes up for in sheer persistence. In the 866 pages it takes these folks to get their circus from Appomattox to the Franco-Prussian War, the author serves up more than anyone ever hoped to know about the circus. Most novels of this scope luxuriate in their own importance. This one, however, pays tribute to the whimsical and examines those values that motivate its principal characters: pride, camaraderie, self-esteem. You don't have to try real hard to remain interested in these people, or to like them. (Atheneum, $21.95)

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