Reviews, Circus of the Grand Design

“Looking for a quick getaway from his girlfriend and his grinding job in the city, public relations specialist Lewis rents a house on Long Island from an eccentric artist–and accidentally sets fire to the living room. Fleeing to the nearest local diner, he by chance encounters the ringmaster of a circus that he suddenly finds himself running away to join. When, as the company’s new marketing guru, he hops aboard the caravan of the Circus of the Grand Design, however, he unhappily finds little that resembles the Ringling Brothers milieu he expected. While interviewing an assortment of odd and dysfunctional characters, from a promiscuous juggler to a triad of abusive trapeze artists, he falls for the enchanting and beautiful Cybele, who may or may not be real, and who forces him to confront his own darker nature. Although the narrative occasionally drags, newcomer Wexler excels at lucid prose and provocative ideas, giving the Bradbury-ish carnival-comes-to-town theme a new twist and showing promise as an original fantasist.” —Carl Hays, Booklist

“A traveling circus with an otherworldly pedigree serves as a supportive surrogate family for a directionless young man in this diverting traipse through the terrain of magic realism. Lewis, an amiable slacker, is fleeing after accidentally burning down a Long Island beach rental when he bumps into Joseph Dillon, enigmatic ringmaster of the Circus of the Grand Design. Dillon hires him for public relations work, but warns that there’s no coming back from a circus that “moves in the fourth dimension.” The circus crew includes Garson Gold, a rakish juggler with a seemingly supernatural talent for keeping aloft any item tossed him, and Bodyssia, a capybara trainer with Amazonian appetites. While Lewis spends most of the novel ingratiating himself with these two, he’s also tantalized by Cybele, an alluring sylph whose sexual attentions ease his integration into the insular circus society. Wexler (In Springdale Town) mostly avoids the familiar “circus of life” terrain already mapped out by Angela Carter, Ray Bradbury and other fantasists, concentrating instead on Lewis’s efforts to understand the temporal and spatial peculiarities of the train carrying the circus between towns and to find his place in its quasi-mythic design. Though the narrative sometimes moves as aimlessly as Lewis, its unaffected style and exuberantly eccentric cast keep the story as buoyant and airy as a center-ring trapeze act.” —Publisher’s Weekly

“…reinforces the impression conveyed by his first book, In Springdale Town: we are witnessing the arrival of a new fantasist whose prose, in its clarity, warmth, and easily flowing progress, seems already fully matured….Wexler demonstrates a wonderful touch with his writing: to render Lewis’s lengthy inner journey through this dream-state without losing a sense of living, vital immediacy is an extraordinary accomplishment.”—Mark Rich, New York Review of Science Fiction, January 2005

“a fascinating, deeply bizarre adventure.”—Faren Miller, Locus Magazine, October 2004

“….And as its claws close, so the novel becomes increasingly compelling, coming close to matching the sustained unease that distinguished Wexler’s earlier novella In Springdale Town (2003).”—Niall Harrison, Strange Horizons:

“….Wexler wedges the reader slowly out of this world and into a subtly surreal dreamscape dotted with marvels great and small. He keeps the focus tight and the action low-key even as unreality overtakes the narrative. Wexler breaks down the barriers between performers and audience, readers and writers, dreams and reality with a disarmingly assured ease. He creates an erotic otherworld that’s nonetheless grounded. Step into this tent and onto this train and expect a journey through a world at once symbolic and sensual.”—Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column

“If you are the sort person who likes things explained, Wexler’s debut novel, Circus of the Grand Design is not going to make you any happier. Wexler doesn’t do explanations. In his work, things happen. They happen for creative purposes, or for allegorical purposes, or sometimes, I suspect, because they are very, very weird and Wexler likes the idea of disturbing his readers.”—Cheryl Morgan, Emerald City