So, since we were called to … arms? Book shelves? Keyboards? Here I am, presenting you with my recommendation.
It’s from 1979, it’s gay, it’s circus, it’s so non-fantasy that I still wonder whether Marion Zimmer Bradley REALLY did write this.
First off, I am NOT a huge Zimmer Bradley fan, not as much as I used to be, especially regarding her more fantastic books (these are an entirely different can of worms and MAYBE I’ll open it. One day.)
I’m here today however to talk and gush and squee and – a bit – shudder about her 1979 novel „The Catch Trap“.
Set in the USA in the mid-1940’s to the early 1950’s „The Catch Trap“ tells the story about Tommy Zane and Mario Santelli, two boys born into Circus life and currently traveling with their respective families as part of a small circus. Tommy, while being the son of two lion trainers has absolutely no intent of taking up this profession, but shows great aptitute for air ballet and bear a deep fascinaion for trapeze flying. So naturally he starts to befriend the youngest offspring of the italo-american Santelli clan who provide said trapeze flying to their circus company. Mario however, while encouraging his interest in trapeze flying, remains somewhat distant and it takes a good while til Tommy finds out why. Mario is several things: Roman-catholic. Gay. Once-convicted. And in love with Tommy.
Considering the setting, you probably wont expect a smooth ride and sunshine. So I think part of this recommendation is me saying and assuring you that yes! They will live, they find their niche and their place in life and in society, even though it takes them several years and a lot of worry and fear and tears, they find happiness and this is in large part due to their mutual love for trapeze flying (I think they described it as being extremely intimate in public without anybody noticing and it’s seriously awesome).
So… what are the important themes of this book?
Strangely enough, given the fact Tommy is 14, not the discovery of identity. Tommy worries a bit about what he discovers about himself, but feels comfortable enough with it. The more important thing is the worry about social repercussions and how this fear informs actions and thoughts of the characters, starting from fake-dating unsuspecting girls (it ends nasty) towards being afraid of even the most innocent actions in public.
Plus, some lovely, well-thought out in-story discourses about how representation matters both for those who do the representation and for thoe who receive it and how times WILL change but how Tommy and his generation will probably not be able to fully embrace this, simply because their paranoia kept them alive for so long…
This all being the backdrop to a gripping, rich history of a circus family, a world that’s at once glittering and glamourous and covered in sweat, hard work, blood and danger and dedication – and this world itself being the backdrop for such interesting, complex, multi facetted and on occasion downright contradictionairy characters (also rather messed up in Mario’s case. Seriously. Fendassor and I already joked about how Seregil and Vanyel Ashkevron could open a therapy group about their issues (and never talk about their issues, masters of not-talking-about-issues they are and rather play harp all day long). Mario totally could join them and contribute his dancing.)
Plus I adore Papa Tony. Over 70, italian patriarch over his family and … he watches his grandson and a boy in his care growing closer and closer and he admits he doesn’t understand why and what, but they don’t harm anyone or each other and they even seem to thrive, so why would he judge them? It’s heartwarming and inspiring.
So, a book I can recommend with all my heart?
Well, yes and no.
First of, please be warned about the age thing. Tommy in the beginning is 14, Mario 21. I personally was never that troubled by the age difference itself, but I am aware several people here might be, so be warned. Considering the story spans eight years (and has an interuption of five) it evens out.
There is one thing I found extremely troubling though…
Mario, 21, fondles Tommy, 14. They’re not together yet. Tommy is half asleep. They’re on the backseat of a car. With Marios uncle and grandfather in the front seats.
this might be a tad problematic.
This is my main angry point about this book and it would be an a lot bigger angry point if Tommy didn’t call Mario out (harshly) on it later. This scene too raises the question whether Mario is in general interested in younger boys. Considering the in the late 1970’s still-prevalent idea that gay men are pedophiles this might be deliberate (compare to Mercedes Lackeys „Last Herald Mage“ Vanyel, who in-story has to diffuse similar accusations).
All in all – if you can find it, check it out. You can find „The Catch Trap“ on amazon here and in general you can try your luck everywhere where you get used books. Keep tissues ready. You gonna need them.