Picks and Pans Review: The Circus of the Earth and the Air

updated 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Brooke Stevens

A vacation turns into a nightmare for Alex Barton when his wife, Iris, volunteers for Father Fish's circus magic act, steps into a box and vanishes. The next morning, the circus has disappeared, leaving Alex with two handwritten tickets and no explanations.

Alex endures every pain and humiliation in his quest for his missing wife, starting with a stint as a soldier in the army of Edward Volenti, the bizarre inventor of a circus hidden on the island of Cea. Alex is tortured, seduced, forced lo fight to the death. He's taught to juggle, throw knives and the most spectacular feat of all: to eat macaroni while balanced on a tightrope.

The author, who once worked as a circus roustabout and animal groom, brings passion to his first novel. Unfortunately, the plot keeps slipping away, and the promise of a story is bogged down in a series of episodic adventures that question what is real. (Harcourt Brace, $23)

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