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Book Review: Freak Show Without a Tent

July 21, 2014

Freak Show Without a TentJacket image, Freak Show without a Tent by Nevin Martell
Nevin Martell
Possibilities Publishing
June 2014
(review copy received from author)

From Nevis at age six to Vanuatu at age 12 to Tonga and Western Samoa at age 13, Nevin’s family vacations take him to places far more exotic than your average family jaunt to Disneyland. The memoir gathering these stories together is both a fun romp and a detailed view that evokes the places his family visits.

The book works as an armchair travel guide and daydream fodder. Anecdotes about each vacation make it easy to picture the islands themselves, and to feel brought along on the family trips. His writing makes it easy to share the white-knuckles in a small, rickety plane or watching land diving (both firmly crossed off my own vacation to-do list); and to wish for a bite of the johnnycakes or fresh caught fish cooked wrapped in leaves (yum). I’ll be pulling this off the shelf again in February, to cheer me up when it’s gray and slushy out.

Martell does a terrific job of blending the voice of the young boy seeing the islands for the first time (bickering with his sister, rolling his eyes at his dad, uneasy about piranhas swimming too near the boat) with the wry observations of an established writer looking back. Moments that stand out for capturing both voices include his riff on James Bond movies (I giggled out loud on the subway, and nearly missed my stop while reading) and his tale of the family’s experience with the awful-tasting but trippy kava ceremony on Fiji.

In the spirit of full disclosure as to how I got my hands on this book: Nevin and I went to the same college. He was a senior when I was a freshman. He came across my blog and reached out to tell me about his book, wondering whether I remembered him. (Here, I think it helps that he and I both have unique enough names for disambiguation in cyberspace.) He was a senior when I was a freshman, with a few friends in common. I remember a cheerful grin, and that he knew and wrote about cutting edge cool music for various school publications. So that added an extra layer of fun to reading this. But I can safely say it stands alone as a good read, even without prior knowledge.

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