Kristy Cambron’s The Ringmaster’s Wife is set in the 1920s Jazz Age. Mable Burton came from humble beginnings on a farm in Ohio. She wanted more out of life, so she went to work at the Chicago World’s Fair, carrying with her a cigar box of clippings she had collected to inspire her dreams. She met John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers circus, and eventually they married.
Lady Rosamund Easling was an earl’s daughter whose life was more or less arranged for her without consultation as to her desires. Her parents were arranging and preparing for her engagement and marriage to a man she didn’t love, and worst of all, her father was selling her beloved horse, Ingenue, a gift from her deceased brother. When offered a chance to travel to America, Rosamund took it, eventually becoming the star bareback rider for the circus.
It’s interesting that the two women came from opposite ends of the economic and social spectrum, so to speak, but both were motivated to break out of the life that was expected of them. Mable and John were real people; Rosamund and Colin, the man in charge of everything under John, were fictional. Mable didn’t set out to become rich, but she adapted well to her new lifestyle without letting it go to her head. She and John loved Venice, so when they built their home, Ca’ d’ Zan (House of John), in Florida, Mable oversaw every aspect of it and included a lot of Venetian inspiration. They had grand parties with guests like the mayor and the Ziegfelds. After I read the book, I went back to reread Susanne’s review, and saw a comment there that Kristy had a video of a tour of the house, so I looked and found this. (That’s just the first floor: there is another for the second floor and one for the circus train cars I haven’t watched yet) It was fascinating to see, having just read the book.
In the book, though, Mable was known more for her quiet wisdom. She didn’t “dip her oar” in John’s business, but she extended her influence when she thought it appropriate, like accosting the boy who pickpocketed her husband and, seeing the potential in him, encouraging him to work for the circus (I don’t know if the pickpocket incident was real). Likewise when Rosamund was “just” a beginning performer, Mabel took time to encourage her.
I wondered what inspired Kristy to write about Mable and this era (both her previous books were set in WWII, but this and the next one are set in the Jazz Age). I didn’t find anything on that exactly, but in trying to find that out I did find this interview with her about the book.
There were a lot of behind-the-scenes looks at how a circus works, and a lot of mention of the circus workers as a family. Every family will have its squabbles, though, and there is some dissension among some on a couple of issues. But I think the main thrust of the book is the sacrifice and joy involved in chasing one’s dreams.
My only criticism was that the back-and-forth timelines got a little confusing at times, even though the date is at the beginning of every chapter.
My favorite line: “Home can move. As long as your heart goes with it.”
Genre: Historical inspirational fiction
Potential objectionable elements: None
My rating: 8 out of 10