The Sword Swallower & A Chico Kid, an e-book copyright and written by Gary Robinson.
A Preface informs the reader that the story was inspired by the author’s friendship with a circus sideshow sword swallower named Captain Don Leslie. “It is a fictional account of events that took place in each of their lives with a few chapters loosely based on the literary work of Madame Chinchilla and her Tattoo & Museum located in Fort Bragg, California.” A Prologue next presents a grandfather playing with his grandson Calvin when interrupted by a mail delivery of a picture of his old friend who has passed away. He is overcome, begins to tear up just as his aging but still lovely wife enters to tell him that two of his books now are on the New York Times Best Sellers list. She stops mid-sentence when seeing his reaction, runs to him, sees and exclaims about Duke’s picture. Calvin quietly asks “Who is Duke, Grandpa?” He wipes his tears away, holds Calvin’s handles tightly and answers “He is the reason you are here, Calvin.” The following seventeen chapters describe the life of a 15-year-old who leaves an impossibly dysfunctional and abusive home to become addicted to methamphetamine and alcohol. He joins a circus, become something of a legend as Duke Reynolds, sword swallower, and stated in his own words follows his basic philosophy: “This life will not promise you anything. You are guaranteed nothing. All you have is today. This moment. Yesterday is just a memory and tomorrow is not guaranteed. All you have is this moment. Make sure you try to live as much as you can every day.” The next six chapters describe “The Destructive Path of a Chico Kid”, another young man from a pretty much similar background who slides through college deep in alcohol, drugs and sophomoric male activity often indulged in by members of some fraternities and similar groups. The last, Part 3 devotes 9 chapters to “An Eccentric Friendship and an Unconventional Mentoring” where Gary, the young man heading down this destructive course is befriended by Duke, mentored in a most unusual manner and after having a very close brush with death gains redemption.
Discussion: The author has set forth a story that probably will affect each individual reader in different ways. Fundamentally it is a tale of redemption. However it also is a remembrance of a another era when the world was more provincial; recall for some individual of activities that never change; recounting of controversial decisions made ‘for the good of humanity’; a number of truisms; and perhaps an introduction to a ‘different’ way of life, here modifying another of a type that all too frequently is being encountered today – the entire tale provided in raw, often disgusting but regrettably perhaps, most realistic prose. It is a tale about the earlier part of the last century when the larger towns were entertained by Barnum & Bailey and The Ringling Brothers circuses, and the smaller by the numerous small circuses and ‘carnies’ such as the one that served as a home for Duke. A re-editing would greatly enhance the story’s presentation.
Summary: For older readers, many fond memories will surface; younger readers will be introduced to what were occasions of great enjoyment to the ‘oldsters’. For some it is a sad tale but for all readers a caveat is necessary – this is a tale replete with drugs, alcohol and ridiculous decisions couched in raw, though pertinent language, even though it is a story of eventual redemption.
3* 4* Compelling story of redemption; caveat and suggestions as described.