Sideshow by Amy Stilgenbauer is a contemporary lesbian novel set in the 1950s in the Midwest. Abby Amaro is training to be an opera singer and dreams of one day singing at La Scala Opera House, but like every other young woman her age she is expected to get married and raise a family. She has dated Frank Butler, the town “catch,” a few times.
When he approaches Abby with a marriage proposal and tries to bully her into accepting, she panics. With the help of her older brother Natale, she takes refuge with the traveling carnival. She tells herself that she will make do for a while until some time has passed and her beau has moved on. Even though she misses her family, she is drawn to her carny friends, especially the female weight-lifter, Suprema. The romance is part of a much larger story about acceptance, family, friendship and love, so I wouldn’t label this book a romance novel. This is Abby’s story.
Abby Amaro lives in the Midwest, in the 1950s with her traditional Italian family. Her life, like most women’s lives in the 50s, is dictated by the expectations of those around her – her family, her boss, her boyfriend, and the expectations of a typical Midwestern community in the 1950s. Until one day she does the unexpected. She flees to the only place she can see that is not like her Midwestern community – the traveling carnival. I loved going on this journey with Abby, where society’s norms are not carny norms and a talented young woman is allowed a bit of space to grow. (I say “a bit” because it still is the 1950s.)
The Writing Style
The writing is lively and beautiful. The story moves between the past and the present and the author give the reader a date when moving to the past. When I first started reading the story this jolted me out of the present day story a bit. But after a few chapters I fell under the spell of Ms Stilgenbauer’s world and the beat of the story.
I could smell the sawdust and feel the heat inside the carnival tents. I could see the cherry red tutus. I walked beside Abby and felt her fear and wonder as she discovers this new world and herself. I loved the characters, the setting, the storyline. This one is on my favorites list for this year.
I wish I could have lived with this story a bit longer. I wanted to lose myself for days in this world.
I loved this book. And there are so many reasons for a reader to love this story. The 1950s Italian family dynamic, the carnival world and its people, the romance between Abby and Suprema, and Abby Amaro, the talented woman who sings opera and discovers who she is with the help of an unconventional family. This story will touch your heart.
Excerpt from Sideshow by Amy Stilgenbauer
When Ruth and Constance dropped her at Della’s trailer — with her meager, newly acquired collection of clothes — Abby found the door locked. She rapped hard on the aluminum door and it vibrated. “I’m coming! I’m coming!” Della answered, emphasizing her fake accent, but when she opened the door and saw Abby standing before her, she sighed with relief. Then she forced her features into a frown. “Oh, I thought you’d run off,” she said, the accent gone.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Abby replied, slipping inside. The explosive mess of clothing seemed to have gotten worse since the morning. She kicked a pile of feathered boas aside so that she could step through to the table and set her own bundle down.
Della shrugged, sighing theatrically. She grabbed one of the white and silver boas from the ground, wrapped it around her neck, and plopped down at the small table across from Abby. “You’re lucky you caught me. I’ve got a show in a half an hour. You would have had to wait out there in the rain.”
“It’s not raining.”
“It could start. You never know. Makes for a more dramatic story.”
Abby considered her for a long moment, unsure whether or not she should laugh. She wanted to ask how things went with McClure, whether or not she was going to be allowed to eat breakfast tomorrow, if this whole thing was going to work, but she couldn’t bring herself to speak.
“You gonna come to the show, then?” Della asked, breaking the silence. She pulled on a pair of bright red pumps, pointed her foot, and admired her ankle.
“I don’t know.”
“C’mon. It’s not like you’re gonna have to demean yourself by actually performing or anything.” Though her tone was sarcastic, Abby could sense resentment.
“It’s not that, I just…wasn’t I meant to be hiding out?”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781945053016
- Publisher: Interlude Press, August 2016
Amy Stilgenbauer Online
Note: I received a free review copy of Sideshow by Amy Stilgenbauer. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.