Why can’t he love me anymore? He did once. I’m sure of it. But gay men are like that. Shallow. They can love for only so long. He couldn’t even feel jealous. It’s too deep an emotion for him.” 
Lives of the Circus Animals is a comedy about a group of theater people in New York: actors, writers, and personal assistants who infiltrate each other’s lives with a growling intensity tempered by Bram’s dry wit. The title conveys the fondness and gentle derision with which Bram presents his ensemble cast, of whom interrelationships unfold in very dramatic and eccentric manner.
Acerbic Times second-string critic Kenneth Prager hates his life and, frustrates that the world falls short of his ideals, he takes it out in his reviews. His victim is Caleb Doyle, a gay playwright whose first stage success was immediately followed by the ignominious failure of his second. Torn between failure and nostalgia of his deceased lover, Ben, Caleb considers quitting to write altogether. Somewhat of a fag hag, Caleb’s lovelorn sister Jessie tries hard not to fall for failed actor Frank Earp, who has come to terms with the limits of his theatrical career. The now full-time office manager directs school-children plays and other amateur gags. His latest is an off-off-Broadway show staged in an apartment, in which Toby Volger, Caleb’s ex-boyfriend, is cast. Toby still nurses a breakup with Caleb, whom he thinks is still in love with the dead lover, while he is drawn to Jessie’s boss, Henry Lewse, an aging, prominent British actor who has renounces love altogether.
[Toby to Caleb] And you know why you’re still in love with him? Because you didn’t love him enough when he was alive. 
[Frank to Jessie] You’re not ready to love me. You’re not ready to love anymore. Or let yourself be loved. Because you’re too in love with success___ . . . And you know why you need success? Because you don’t like yourself enough. Well, I like you. I love you. And if you had any brains at all, you’d understand that that was success enough. 
But then I understood that it was useless to be unhappy. Life is short. I refuse to take myself—or anyone else—so seriously that they will cause me pain. 
What begins as a series of disconnected scenes quickly develops into a densely integrated plot which coalesces into a rousing, swiftly paced (events take place over ten days) comedy of manners—and errors. Through success and failure, dreams come true and shattered, the characters are fully in touch with their humanity and vulnerability. In the chase after fame and accomplishment, they master over narcissism at the expense of love, because the egos have got all tangled up in their affection. Whether one is ascending to stardom, that is Henry, or one who is owning up to his failure, that is Caleb, he is at the crossroad of love and affection.
Although this is Bram’s lighter vein, Lives of the Circus Animals is a beautifully constructed novel with characters, scandal, love, and humor from all aspects of the sexual spectrum. The title, adopted from a poem by William Butler Yeats, can’t nail better the truth how untamable animals humans can be. The misadventures of the playwrights, actors, critics, rookies, lover-wannabes end in an extravaganza with a surprising twist. It’s a brilliant and entertaining novel that explores gender and sexual politics.
341 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]
Filed under: American Literature, Books, Contemporary Literature, Gay Literature, Literature Tagged: | American Literature, Books, Christopher Bram, Contemporary Literature, GLBT Literature, Literature, Lives of Circus Animals