From a master of the symbolism of darkness as it stands in
opposition to light and hope: the opaque story of an unusual boy
named Joe and a cast of eccentric and unsavory characters. Joe, who
feels " . . . the lark singing inside him and the tiger prowling
inside him," is a complex, enigmatic character. While he is
sensitive and intelligent inside, he is outwardly troubled,
awkward, stammering, and dreamily vague. Townsfolk, including his
peers, psychiatrists, social workers, teachers, and policemen
consistently misunderstand and sometimes victimize him. When a
down-at-the-heels circus arrives in town for its last performances
before folding, this lonely outsider is drawn to the circus folk
and they to him. They are looking for a hero who has the heart of a
tiger to carry the skin of the circus's last tiger into the forest.
A blind diviner uses her odd rituals to foretell that Joe will be
that hero. So does young Corinna, a circus flyer who speaks in
esoterica and believes Joe to be her twin from another life. The
two carry the tiger skin into the night forest and succeed in
driving away a swaggering thug who specializes in toughening up
boys with his own ritual of cruel blood sport. The story ends with
a metaphorical reconciliation as Joe's constant, devoted mother
invites the shunned circus folk to a party in her garden, where
they delight neighborhood children. The reader senses that Joe's
secret heart may have found a "home." Beautifully written, this
nonetheless is a largely metaphysical tale of stalker versus prey
(real and surreal, animal and human), featuring mainly symbolic
characters with whom readers may not connect and about whom they
may not care. (Fiction. 12-15) (Kirkus Reviews)
Joe lives in Helmouth, a forgotten village crumbling on the edge of
the suburbs. His once-loving mother has fallen under the influence
of her boyfriend, the unkind Mr Montagu, whose presence, both real
and threatened, overshadows Joe's every move. Joe's best friend,
Stanny, insists that Joe must toughen up, become a survivor - and
he is adamant that a weekend in the wilderness with Stanny and his
Uncle Joff will do the trick. Into Joe's unhappy world comes
Hackenschmidt's Circus, and with it the strangely familiar Corinna.
She tells Joe, 'In the circus there is a secret heart...' - a place
of contained wildness where the barriers between the human and
animal world are fluid. And indeed Joe's dreams are already stalked
by a tiger, so real that his skin and its pelt begin to feel as
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