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Dancing in Circles
ISBN: 1592798608

By Debra Tash
Review by: Amanda Wray

12/01/04

“Sometimes a body’s got to do a little drifting to find out where they should be settling.” Goldie, a chain-smoking, maniac-driving carnival owner with yellow hair adds this to the world of advice she lavishes upon Minnie Capstan throughout Dancing in Circles by Debra Tash. This is a 1950s novel about a girl who is quickly approaching eighteen, falling in love, and traveling with the carnival simultaneously. While it certainly is a unique environment, the storyline is at times trite.

Minnie is one of many children in her over-crowded family. She is a smart girl who graduates from high school early in order to avoid the teasing of high school boys only to work full time in her parents’ hardware store. When a handsome and secretive man named Alfredo, who is in his early thirties, pays Minnie some attention at the traveling carnival, she is smitten. Soon she packs up some of her belongings, with the unquestioned blessing of her entire family, and is sitting shotgun in Alfredo’s truck as the newest addition to the carnival.

Minnie’s part Russian Jew and part Yokut Indian heritage becomes a literary tactic in the text to move the story along or add some punch of humor, unfortunately often neglecting or over-generalizing the true potential of one’s heritage in a coming of age story. Her Jewish ancestry is eventually depicted as something she must overcome in order to accept Alfredo, who once sent a soldier to his death because he was a Jew.

The end of the text was extremely disappointing. Like most every other adolescent text on the market, the girl’s body and life become consumed by the male counterpart. Her mark of happiness and self fulfillment is wrapped up in Alfredo and the prospect of sharing “true” love with a man she barely knows. Just as disheartening is Minnie’s symbolic final step into womanhood. In a drunken stupor, she offers her virginity to Alfredo. Yet he refuses her explaining that she is the “marrying” type not “the type of girl a guy takes inside the back of a truck.” At this point Alfredo reveals the big secret the author has spent most of the text building up – Alfredo was once a racist bigot. Minnie retreats to her parent’s house, rather than asserting her newly discovered independence, only to be rescued by Alfredo’s marriage proposal.

While the tale is too sophomoric even for beach reading, there are moments where I was lightly entertained and overall I was interested in what would happen to Minnie Capstan. I wanted more for her. I wanted independence, race awareness and cultural literacy. Of course this is a text set in 1952 when girls were suppose to seek out marriage, but why waste such vivid character portraits, some beautiful analogies, and unsuspectingly lyrical prose on a story where once again happiness equals man rather than Woman and all that capital “W” represents?

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