Wonder When You'll Miss Me
We have a conflicted relationship with the circus. We love the mystery and the wonder but are suspicious of the actual people who do the work, the carnies and the sideshow acts. We enjoy the fantasy but fear what happens behind the scenes, the reality behind the magic. Still, the idea of running away to join the circus has popularity in our collective cultural consciousness. Literature can romanticize the circus or demonize it. Rarely does it attempt to present it in a fair or balanced light. Amanda Davis has done just this --- and much, much more --- in her novel, WONDER WHEN YOU'LL MISS ME.
Not that this novel is about the circus, per se. But the circus is the arena --- the most important setting, the place where the protagonist grows and comes into her own. For Faith Duckle, also known as Anabelle Cabinet, the circus is a place of healing and magic and also a dark and secret world where she must begin to battle her past and her personal demons.
After being raped by a group of schoolmates at her high school homecoming game and telling no one about it, Faith Duckle attempts suicide and wakes up to find herself hospitalized. During her hospital stay, she loses over 50 pounds and makes a friend named Starling. Starling, who succeeds in her suicide attempt, tells Faith all about her heroic and loving brother Charlie, who travels the country with the circus. When Starling dies and Faith is released, tales of Charlie inspire her.
Thinner and slightly more confident, Faith returns to school. Now, however, she is accompanied by the Fat Girl. The Fat Girl is much too real, too persuasive and too physical a presence to be dismissed as an imaginary friend. She is a vivid hallucination, Faith's alter ego. And, she is out to avenge Faith's attack. Soon, the Fat Girl finds a target for her rage and hurt --- the only boy who has expressed any kindness or remorse to Faith since the rape. Faith, in turn, physically assaults him and then runs away from home. The two, Faith and the Fat Girl, find themselves on the road searching for Charlie and the circus. They eventually find the circus and Faith finds a new home; she begins to depend less and less on the Fat Girl. Faith's struggles are far from over, but her travels with the circus allow her to begin exploring the issues and events that have plagued her young life.
WONDER WHEN YOU'LL MISS ME is filled with darkness, longing and a quiet rage. Faith is a distressed and damaged young woman with consuming secrets. She remains silent about her attack, her sadness and hurt, and even about her clumsy and violent revenge. In joining the circus, she finds a safe but emotionally challenging place and finally feels she is part of something meaningful. There, she is allowed to keep her secrets for a while, explore both independence and interdependence, and create a new family for herself. To call this novel a "coming of age" story is to oversimplify. Yet, Faith does grow and mature. Like the legendary phoenix, Faith emerges from her trauma as a new creature and she finds a home in a world of wonderfully real people. In setting the story in a circus, Davis allows us all to peer behind the scenes --- to lift up the very edge of the big top and gaze for a while at the lives of those who work to present to us a few hours of magic and fantasy. At the same time, we lift the veil on the mind of one lonely and shattered teenage girl and watch the magical work of her putting her life together and finding love and acceptance.
Davis has created a lucid, compelling page-turner that defies categorization. This is a stunning novel and Faith's story is uncomfortably tragic, brutally honest and beautifully rendered. It is about pain and rebirth and the reality behind all illusions. WONDER WHEN YOU'LL MISS ME is, quite simply, a great novel.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 24, 2011
Wonder When You'll Miss Me
- Publication Date: July 30, 2012
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial
- ISBN-10: 0060534265
- ISBN-13: 9780060534264