Some children dream of joining the circus. Mat dreams of escaping it. Abandoned by her mother when she was five, she was adopted into a traveling circus where the only solace she could find was in her work helping rig the circus tent. Now 15 years old, she has created a family from an odd menagerie of circus hands. There's Al, a hard-drinking cook and one-time transvestite clown; Tante, the costume mistress, whose disfiguring scars run deeper than her skin; and her lover Jayson, the ring crew-chief 20 years her senior. Together they inhabit a peripatetic world of drugs, booze and sex that Mat secretly longs to leave.
Written with the insider savvy of an author who has lived the circus life, Roustabout marks a debut of uncommon impact that readers will not soon forget.
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Michelle Chalfoun has worked in the circus as a roustabout, on boats as a deckhand and cook, and in shipyards as maintenance and repair crew. She divides her time between New England and the Puget Sound.From Kirkus Reviews:
First-novelist Chalfoun has relied on her own experiences as a circus worker to create this decidedly unglamorous view of a circus orphan's life--a bleak tale with occasional sparks of originality and insight glimmering from beneath the ashes. Mat hardly remembers her earliest years, before her mother took her along to live in an Airstream trailer with Enis, a circus crewman. Then, when Mat was nine, her mother fled, leaving Mat with her lover, who promptly began sexually abusing the little girl. Regularly raped by the man she calls ``Pa,'' Mat grows up unkempt and uneducated among the travelling performers, finding happiness only in her work as a roustabout, swinging a sledgehammer to secure the stays of the circus tent, apparently unaware of how different her life is from those of the townies she holds in such contempt. At the age of 15, though, Mat is ``rescued'' by Jayson, the 35- year-old ringcrew chief, who moves her into a sleeper with Al, a transvestite cook happy to act as surrogate mother, and puts her to work in the costume truck with Tante, a burn-scarred crone whose own terrible past throws an even deeper shadow over Mat's grim life. Somehow the teenaged Mat dares to hope for romance and domesticity, even as Jayson, now her lover, casually betrays and abuses her. Barely able to spell out a simple love letter, Mat cannot imagine a life outside this strange, peripatetic world, yet she must learn how to escape its no-win rules if she is to survive at all. Grim stuff, clearly, but Chalfoun's characters are not easy to forget. One wonders where the author's unflinching eye will light next. (Film rights to Twentieth Century Fox; $40,000 ad/promo; author tour) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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