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The Final Confession of Mabel Stark
Synopses & Reviews
Mabel Stark was the greatest female tiger trainer in history. In the 1910s and ?20s, during the golden age of the big top, she was the superstar of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, and one of America?s most eccentric celebrities. A tiny, curvaceous Kentucky blonde in a white leather bodysuit, Mabel was brazen, sexually adventurous, and suicidally courageous. The Final Confession of Mabel Stark is Robert Hough?s brilliant, wit-studded novel of her fantastic life.
It is 1968. Mabel, nursing her most serious mauling yet, is just turning eighty and about to lose her job at Jungleland, a California game park. Devastated by the loss of her cats, she looks back on her life and her five husbands: the fifth a cross-dresser whom she married without bothering to divorce the other four would one day be tragically mauled by her one true love, her ferocious yet amorous 550-pound Bengal tiger, Rajah.
Starting with her escape from a mental institution to begin her circus career as a burlesque dancer, Mabel?s exquisitely voiced confession is a live wire of dark secrets, broken dreams, and comic escapades. It is a brilliant, exhilarating story of an America before television and movies, when the spectacle of the circus reigned and an unlikely woman captured the public imagination with her singular charm and audacity.
"A marvelous debut...about the life and amazing adventures of the greatest female tiger trainer in circus history and narrated with delicious humor and warmth....Just about perfect. One of the most entertaining novels in many years." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Hough presents a colorful picture of life in the golden days of the circus....He portrays Mabel Stark as an eccentric, courageous, and daring heroine." The Windsor Star
"Rich in the atmosphere of circus life, this graphic, slangy fictional reminiscence also offers some surprising, deft metafictional touches." Publishers Weekly
"Impossible to put down. Stark would be the ideal heroine under any circumstances, and the fact that she was also a historical figure only adds luster to what is truly a ripping story....[Hough] has an almost cinematic ability to bring to life the carnival in all its garish, deafening clamor." Hour (Montreal)
"Mabel survived a dozen maulings and five husbands, she was brazen, brave, and obsessively driven — she has the story that leading ladies were invented for." Kate Winslet
"One of the most enjoyable and involving first novels that I have read in years...Mabel Stark is the first heroine I?ve fallen in love with for a long time." The Gazette (Montreal)
"Utterly captivating and thrilling fictionalized life of the greatest female tiger-trainer in history....It is also a snapshot of the circus at the height of its popularity in America in the early 20th century — an age when circus performers were superstars." The Bookseller
"Hough is masterful at capturing voice, not just that of his narrator but of the true-life characters that she rubs up against, including Stark?s circus bosses — John and Charles Ringling and Al G. Barnes." The Hamilton Spectator
"Rambunctious Mabel Stark is brought to life from her journals and letters, and although Hough uses artistic license to fill in the gaps of his research, his intimations are all too plausible here, where the truth is certainly stranger than fiction." Elsa Gaztambide, Booklist
"The Final Confession of Mabel Stark is one hell of a journey....Hough vividly renders the big-top life, from the working men to the divas in the ring. This is a world of blood and death...of illicit sex and mysterious pasts." Vancouver Sun
"A life that invites sheer, slack-jawed fascination...[Hough] has created one of the most remarkable, sympathetic, and finely rendered characters I have come across anywhere." Time (International Edition)
"Never flagging, the compelling story thunders along like a runaway circus train bearing a dangerous cargo of painful memory, wild animals, grotesque characters, and outlandish stories." The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
This finalist for the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book in Canada tells the fascinating story of the greatest female tiger trainer in history--and her one true love--spanning from golden age of the circus in the early 20th century to the 1960s.
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