“The Pickle Index is full of life and everything else — rowdy and sweaty and heartbreaking and funny.”
A hapless circus troupe tours the countryside of a downtrodden nation, trying to earn a living the best way they know — even though their best isn’t very good at all: a morose contortionist, a strongman who’d rather be miming, a lion tamer paired with an elderly dog, etc. Toward the end of a typically glum performance, Zloty Kornblatt, the troupe’s ringmaster, accidentally blunders into a mockery of the nation’s glorious leader. He doesn’t even know why the sparse crowd is laughing, but they are — and so he continues with the inadvertent satire, ending the show on a rare triumphant note.
The confused ringmaster is quickly captured, thrown into prison, and sentenced to death. The troupe must design an intricate prison-break built around their unique (and possibly useless) skills. Hijinks ensue, recounted with deadpan humor and flickering hope by Flora Bialy, Zloty’s understudy and our shy narrator.
This paperback edition, from FSG Originals, features evocative woodcuts from illustrator Ian Huerbert.