Twisting and curling and jumping high atop the Velasquez Circus big top, Tessa Riley has come a long way from her sheltered life as
a reticent girl growing up in the small town of Oakley in rural Kansas.
As a sixteen-year-old working on her parents' farm, Tessa doesn't fit into this hardscrabble life of constantly digging and hauling the crops. Desperately wishing for more, her longings are sparked by the arrival in town of Mary Finn, the new librarian rumored to have a wild gypsy past and secret lovers who visit her after the library is closed.
Despite whisperings from the townsfolk that Mary "makes everyone crazy," Tessa gets a job working for her at the
library, giving herself over to the books "raging with life around her" and to Mary, eventually seduced by her kindness, her beautiful words and stories, and her tarot cards, herbs and tea leaves.
Tessa leans that Mary was once a trapeze artist who left the circus to retire to this silent town to quietly catalogue books. She also discovers that Mary once ran away from a place called Rain Village, leaving her mother, father and sister and everything she
knew after her lover, William, tragically drowned.
Increasingly fascinated by this strange and enigmatic woman, Tessa asks Mary to mentor her
- to teach her the art of the trapeze, and how to spin circles in the air, clean and sharp as a knife cut. Mary tells her
that her body was born to fly. "It was like flying – like having no weight around you, no bones, no skin like melting right into the air."
After sudden tragedy strikes, Tessa is forced to follow her dream and rushes to join the circus. Off to Kansas City she goes in search of adventure and the big top, her life suspended between lives, between grief and freedom, the excitement of being out on her own and to be audacious, free from the burdens of family and of love.
Tessa takes to circus life like a duck to water, fascinated by this strange and wonderful new world she sees around her. There's the man who can swallow ten swords and blow streams of fire from his mouth, the girl with the wings sprouting from her back, the pure white horses sparkling with rhinestones, the boom of the ringmasters voice, and the glare of lights turning the world inside out.
However, the trapeze artists most attract Tessa – the beautiful and exotic Lollie Ramirez and Carlos, Paulo, Jose and Mauro, the handsome and gentlemanly Flying Ramirez Brothers who inspire Tessa to whirl around a white rope and cut cleanly through the air, moving around and around, unaffected by gravity and anything of this earth.
In perfectly eloquent prose, author Carolyn Turgeon brings Tessa's beautifully crafted journey to life. But as Tessa readily falls into the life of the circus - even becoming one of the company's star attractions
- Mary's painful past steadily emerges. Tessa becomes ever more haunted by the images of Mary's lover, William, in the river, pale and floating.
Tessa is often driven by blind faith and a hope and longing that has made her demand more of the world than at first it wanted to give her.
It is only through these qualities that she can finally discover the ultimate truths that mysteriously surround her dear best friend.
Weaving together the inscrutable forces of memory, spirit, desire and regret and imbedding her narrative with a sense of the dream-like, Turgeon has written an exquisite, quite moving account of one girl's search through history in an effort to fill the inscrutable holes that nothing else can reach.