Scott Brown
December 08, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Aerialist

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Richard Schmitt
publisher
Overlook
genre
Fiction

We gave it an A-

Running away with the circus is one of our success-driven culture’s most enduring escapist fantasies, and Gary, the errant narrator of Schmitt’s first novel The Aerialist, would seem to be the ultimate escape artist: A committed ne’er-do-well, he carelessly reinvents himself as a roustabout after dropping out of high school in the summer of ’69. And yet this is a story of enterprise, not aimlessness. Gary wants to walk the high wire, and thus begins two decades of single-minded dedication to craft and self. Cleverly turning the road-worn carny metaphor on its ear, Schmitt trains a follow spot on the perilous balancing act that is American ambition. This is the main attraction, but the sideshows — exquisite short-story cadenzas on the lives of ”showfolks” — are even more dazzling. A-

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