The Circus in Winter is writer Cathy Day’s first book. Neither novel nor short story collection, The Circus in Winter is a book of interconnected tales. The stories share settings and characters, brought together by the circus that winters in Lima, Indiana from 1884 to 1939. Author Day grew up in Peru, Indiana, the winter home of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, and is descended from circus people herself.
At their best, Day’s stories are finely crafted character studies, revealing the inner lives of people like Wallace Porter, who becomes a circus owner when his wife dies and he “sees the elephant.” Likewise, Day’s portrait of Jennie Dixianna, the high wire Spin of Death performer, is riveting in its detail and depth. “Lone Star Ranger,” on the other hand, seems less well realized as does “The Jungle Goolah Boy,” largely due to the epistolary structure of this story.
In the final story, “Circus People,” Day’s narrator, a young college professor descended from circus people, reflects on the small town she has left, her mother’s disappearance, and on the death of a young townsman some twenty years earlier. The story is reminiscent of Tim O’Brien’s “Lives of the Dead,” the final story in The Things They Carried (1990). Like O’Brien, Day deftly explores the ways that life and fiction intersect, circle around, and create each other in the spirals of time and place.