Book Review: Circulation by Tim Horvath

Book Review: Circulation by Tim HorvathCIRCULATION
By Tim Horvath

Fiction: Novella
Sunnyoutside, 2008
Paperback, 67 pages

When a story begins with the magical words, “When we were awash with youth,” you know it’s going to be a stunning read. Tim Horvath’s Circulation, a 67-page novella, did not disappoint. I picked up this little piece of fiction at the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair a few months ago and have been saving it, this book described on the back cover as a “swirling ode to maps, dreams, and the redemptive power of fiction,” for a relaxing summer afternoon. That day finally arrived, and Circulation proved to be a lovely read.

As his father lies in the hospital struggling with complications ensuing from a laryngectomy, Jay Pardo embarks on an emotional mental journey, trawling through family memories in an effort to understand both his father and himself. Featuring prominently in these memories is his father’s life goal: to compile The Atlas of the Voyages of Things, a massive tome that would track “how things came to be where they currently were.” Filled with descriptions of the circulation of fluids in the human body, fold-out maps demonstrating the spread of epidemics, and cross-references to thousands of different subjects, the book is a hugely ambitious undertaking.

Although Jay’s father never completes his Atlas, his dream of housing a publication in the Library of Congress was not unfulfilled; before the birth of his children, he self-published Spelos: An Ode to Caves, a book that became a bit of a cult classic among spelunkers, although Jay doubts whether it has ever been checked out from the library where he works as Director of Circulation. Through his experiences with both of his father’s works, into which Jay’s father poured his soul, the narrator learns about the power of storytelling, redemption, and striving toward a dream.

I thought Circulation was a beautiful piece of literary fiction; alongside elegantly written musings about the mysterious creation of stories, Horvath sows precious, realistic moments of family life, from in-jokes about tracking the voyage of a fart on a road trip to the growing apart of siblings, from parental pressure to settle down with a good girl to his mother’s awakening to her husband’s indifference.

I’m afraid I didn’t do this novella justice with my sparse, muddled ramblings, but it really is a beautiful story about family, the power of fiction, and how things come to be where they are. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Behind the door of his office, which jutted proudly at the stern of our first house, overlooking the yard and taking in maddening sunsets, he was supposedly huddled amidst his papers in the evening hours, piecing together a masterwork, a lifelong enterprise. There was a certain comfort in glancing up on summer evenings while we built a fort at the edge of our yard where the woods began, with the volley of dogs barking back and forth nearby. It was the comfort of your tongue tripping on your own sweat, a friendly reminder that of the world’s salt, a share is yours.”

Tim Horvath also recently published Understories, a collection of short stories that sounds really fantastic!


6 thoughts on “Book Review: Circulation by Tim Horvath

  1. Your description of the maps in this book reminds me a lot of one of my favorite short stories, The Mappist by Barry Lopez. (Which is also referenced in the book, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet.)

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