Friday, June 22, 2012

Rain Village by Carolyn Turgeon

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): In this hypnotic, magically real debut novel, a tiny young woman from the heart of the Midwest overcomes an abusive childhood by following her mysterious and beautiful mentor's footsteps to become a circus trapeze artist.

And here's what I thought:  I recently re-read this book, because I enjoyed it so much the first time I read it (I got it from the library and liked it so much that I bought my own copy).   Re-reading it was just as enjoyable, because I hadn't read it for a long time -- so it was like a new story again.

Our main character, Tessa, is an outcast in her own family, because she's very small -- and in a farm family, she's too tiny to help out with the farm work, or even the housework.  Her own mother doesn't seem to like her very much, and instructs Tessa to hang from a curtain rod for hours at a time (hoping to lengthen her body).  Tessa's life changes completely when Mary Finn arrives in her small town --- Mary's not only exotic-looking, but she's strong and independent.   Mary's presence as the town librarian affects everyone, men and women alike, and even as Tessa is drawn to her, she's a bit afraid of her, as well.   However, Tessa develops a friendship with Mary (against the wishes of her family) and learns that Mary had been a circus performer years before.  It turns out that Tessa's a natural on the trapeze (what will all her arm strength from hanging from that curtain rod), and her relationship with Mary completely changes her life.

One of the things I enjoy about this book, aside from the beautiful writing (which is something I enjoy in all books I've read by Carolyn Turgeon), is that there are a lot of realistic elements mixed in.  I could clearly picture Tessa, and her family, and the small town she is living in when she meets Mary.  I had a clear picture of Mary, and I felt like when I was reading this story, I was there with Tessa and Mary.  When Tessa leaves her family behind, to pursue a life in the circus, the people she meets also feel very real -- and there are realistic details of circus life, as well.

Lillian Leitzel
I have always had a fascination with circuses, and carnivals, and circus life.  I've read nonfiction books about circuses, and circus performers, so Tessa's experiences with the Velasquez Circus were not only interesting, but also seemed very realistically written in parts.  In fact, the particular performance trick that Tessa becomes known for, where she hangs by one arm, from a rope, and flings her body up and over, again and again, is something that was performed by a real circus artist named Lillian Leitzel, who was also tiny (she stood only four feet, nine inches tall).   You can read about Lillian Leitzel in this Wikipedia article --- she was known for her one-armed planges, where she would hang from one arm and flip her body over and over again (basically dislocating her shoulder each time).

One other thing I wanted to mention about this book is that it isn't just about Tessa's journey to become a performer --- it's also about her inner journey to discovery who she is, and how to embrace who she is.  Her life isn't easy, and certainly, the painful trick she perfects isn't easy, either, and it's interesting to see how she embraces that pain to get on with her life (even as she feels herself tied to her experiences with Mary).  

First lines:  "That tramp!  Black-haired Jezebel!"

My mother's voice screeched into the house, from the yard.  Up in my room, I thought a storm had come until I saw the bare windowpane, the butter-colored sun streaming in.


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