Title: Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus
Author: Dean Jensen
Fun Fact: The circus could perform for as many as 2.5 million people in a year, meaning famous circus performers were probably the most seen celebrities in the US pre-television.
Review Summary: The era is fascinating, but the drama that made most of the story wasn’t very moving because of the unsympathetic main characters.
Although she began life as the daughter of a poor circus family, Leitzel’s skill as a trapeze artist catapulted her to world-wide fame. This allowed her to become something like circus royalty, making extreme demands of her managers and carrying on illicit affairs that would be grounds for dismissal in others. Her passionate affair with another exceptional trapeze artists, Alfredo Codona was one of the most dramatic events of her drama-filled life.
This book had a lot of the qualities that I look for in narrative non-fiction. The vivid descriptions of a by-gone era were fascinating. The extensive use of quotes was well-executed and indicative of impressive amounts of research. The story itself was full of drama and the writing was technically very good. Sadly, despite its strong points, Queen of the Air never fully engaged me in the story.
The writing could possibly have done something to create more of an emotional connection. In particular, direct quotes that gave more information about the emotional states of the characters would have helped me get to know them better. However, I think the real problem was not the writing, but the people themselves. Leitzel and Alfredo were both incredibly selfish in their pursuit of romantic relationships. They were willing to hurt other people to be with their chosen partners and Leitzel never even seemed to love the men she was pursuing. Despite the titles intimation of disaster on the horizon, I wasn’t worried because I didn’t care much what happened to them. This lack of connection made what I think could have been a very engaging story fall a little flat.