By page 24, the narrator -- a fictionalization of the real-life superstar tiger trainer of the 1910s and '20s -- is already begging the reader to cut her some slack: ''If I stop to describe exactly how scared I was every time something scary happens, we'll be here for the next ten years. So do me a favour. At parts like this imagine how you'd've felt, and we'll both do fine.'' No, we won't. Hough's heroine accumulated five husbands and innumerable scars during her ascent through the circus business, but his limp descriptions, lax plotting, and promiscuous way with cliches rule out any pleasure, carnivalesque or otherwise. Recommended only to those fascinated by the care and feeding of big cats.