August 19: “The Borovsky Circus Goes to Littlefield” by Aubrey Hirsch

Happy Friday, Story366! Yesterday, I lied to you. I started off the post by saying how I didn’t have any great anecdotes or topics to use as a lead-in, then went into a bit of a rant about academic meetings, but really, come on: Lochte. I posted a note about this guy on FB yesterday and got a semi-overwhelming response, more likes and comments than I usually get, as this whole Lochte thing was becoming the crazy news story of the year, if not the decade. Since yesterday, it’s calmed down a bit, as this just seems to be a case of vandalism, some drunk, privileged Americans embarrassing the hell out of our country. Still, why did these guys lie, make up a robbery? They had an incident with a gas station security guard, but they got away from it, were ready to leave the country. Then it dawned on me: Is this all about Ryan Lochte telling his mom that he was robbed—because he felt like he had to expunge some energy to someone, vent a bit, even if it was all untrue—and his mom relaying this on social media, making it a story? I think that’s exactly what happened, that Lochte told his mom some lie and she made it a story by taking it live. The IOC, NBC, and Brazil couldn’t ignore it at that point—moms are like that—so here we are, wherever we are now, an apology given and suspensions coming. All because his mom has Facebook.

Still, I’m dead-on, absolutely convinced that Ryan Lochte is still in Brazil, pretending to be in America. That’s the theory I’ll take to my grave, that I’ll believe until Ryan Lochte knocks on my front door and says, Hi, I’m Ryan Lochte. I’m in America. I mean, why only phone interviews? Why no footage of him getting on a plane? I think he’s hiding in the Olympic village with his blue-blond muss, calling Matt Lauer, trying to figure out what the fuck to do to save his endorsement and reality show deals. His cohort in all this just got fined $10,800 and was able to leave Brazil, so perhaps now he’ll pop out of his swim hole and proclaim, Here I am! Sorry! I want to go home! I want to go to the closing ceremonies! I’m Ryan Fucking Lochte!

We’ll see. I can’t wait.

For today’s post, I read from Aubrey Hirsch’s collection Why We Never Talk About Sugar, out from Braddock Avenue Books. I’ve read Hirsch’s stories in journals over the years and have always enjoyed them, so I was excited to get into this book and read a bunch of them in a row. I started with the title story, which is also the last story in the  book and a short, and loved that, then moved on to the opening story, “Leaving Seoul,” about this guy who goes to South Korea to teach English. After a series of misfortunes, he’s stuck there for years. I was originally thinking, Wow! That guy’s like Lochte! My lead-in will match up with my story discussion today! Then I read the next story, “The Borovsky Circus Goes to Littlefield,” which I like for the post for a lot of reasons, so here we go with a circus story (making me thinking of Cathy Day’s book from March 1).

“The Borovsky Circus Goes to Littlefield” is about a Russian circus, the Borosky Circus, that is on tour in Texas when all of a sudden, their backers pull out. This is possible because of a clause in their contract that no one in the circus knew about, none of them speakers of English. Their equipment and facilities are either returned, sold, or called back to Russia, while the performers and the animals (which belong to the performers), are left stranded in Littlefield, Texas, the tiniest and driest of places to be abandoned.

At first, the circus performers don’t know what to do, but eventually, they get help from the locals who sympathize with their plight. An abandoned women’s prison is turned into a dormitory—a lot like in the third and fourth seasons of The Walking Dead—the cages perfect for the animals (for obvious reasons) as well as  the performers, all of them used to the constrictive quarters. Even the elephants find a home in the gymnasium.

Eventually, the circus figures out that a prison yard is a decent place to not only practice their circus acts, to hone their skills, but to give live performances, and before long, the circus is on again, live from the abandoned women’s prison, and that’s most (but not all) of the plot of this story.

The plot of “The Borovsky Circus Goes to Littlefield” isn’t really the point of “The Borovsky Circus Goes to Littlefield,” however, or at least not the main reason I chose it as today’s focus. The story’s structure is the real interesting angle, as it’s told in a series of vignettes, each about a page-long and from a different one of the circus performers’ point of view. It’s a lot like the Song of Ice and Fire novels, if you read those, rotating point-of-view chapters, each chapter moving the story forward. The same thing happens here. We start with Sandeep, the tiger trainer, which is where we get the info on the backers backing out. Then we move on to the elephant trainer, then the strong man, where we find out about the prison accommodations, and so on. It’s a really cool way to tell a story, especially a short, different from Martin’s series because each person gets just one shot, one page, for their character to come alive, to have their story told. And then that’s it; Hirsch takes us to the next person, the next sketch, the plot moving forward at the same time. This is one I’ll definitely share with my classes, a story that will inspire an exercise. English 701 students, if you’re reading this, you might as well get started on your forward-moving, POV-switching stories now.

I really love Aubrey Hirsch’s Why We Never Talk About Sugar (as opposed to What We Talk About When We Never Talk About Sugar). I’d read some of these stories before in journals, and I’ve read a bunch more today, and I really like what she does, with her shorts, with her slightly longer stories, too. I know I’ll finish this book and await her next—this is one I’m going to remember long after the 366 run out.

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  1. Pingback: August 29: “Delicate Edible Birds” by Lauren Groff – Story366

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