Hough's debut novel, winner of Canada's Trillium Book Award, is a fictionalized biography of legendary female tiger trainer Mabel Stark, whose act astounded circus audiences in the Twenties and Thirties. After fleeing a Kentucky mental institution where she had been committed for failure to fulfill her marital obligations, young Mary Aganosticus hid from authorities by joining the circus. There, as Mabel Stark, she discovered a unique affinity with tigers, whom she preferred to three subsequent husbands. The author skillfully cuts between Stark's earlier life in which she triumphed as the star of Ringling Brothers Circus, handling more tigers in a cage than any other trainer in circus history, and her last year when, nearing 80, she lost her job at a wild animal park and was separated from her beloved tigers. This page-turner not only takes readers into the exotic world of the circus in its heyday but also examines the heart and mind of a unique woman who courageously followed her dream when other women stayed home. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This ribald, rough-hewn debut novel by a prize-winning Canadian writer is based on the flamboyant career of Mabel Stark, arguably the greatest (certainly the greatest female) tiger trainer of all time. Recounted as Stark is turning 80 in 1968, the faux memoir follows her path to superstardom through the 1910s and '20s as she learns to tame tigers and men, and finally tours with the famous Ringling Brothers Circus. Stark, born Mary Haynie, is a teenage Louisville, Ky., nurse, when she is committed to a mental hospital after rebelling against her brutish husband's insensitivity. Aided by a smitten psychiatrist, she escapes to Tennessee, where she becomes Little Egypt, a headliner belly dancer with the Great Parker Carnival. Another marriage and another gig as a "cooch dancer" follow, until she is rescued at the age of 23 by Al G. Barnes, a carny pal, lately owner of a small circus. When the show's animal trainer falls for her, he teaches her how to work with tigers and a new career is launched. Famous for the act in which she wrestles Rajah, a 500-pound Bengal tiger she's raised from a cub, she is also known for her brazenness, multiple marriages ("My men. Whew. Had a slew of them") and black leather jumpsuit. Rich in the atmosphere of circus life, this graphic, slangy fictional reminiscence also offers some surprising, deft metafictional touches. Agent, Ron Eckel, Westwood Creative Artists. (Apr.) Forecast: Hough's debut is a natural sell to fans of Carter Beats the Devil and should attract an even wider readership if the film version-set to star Kate Winslet-comes off. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
"A life that invites sheer, slack-jawed fascination...[Hough] has created one of the most remarkable, sympathetic, and finely rendered characters I have come across anywhere."