Not many stories depict strong, passionate women the way Robert Hough's debut novel, "The Final Confessions of Mabel Stark" does. This historical fiction focuses on the life and career of Mabel Stark, one of the first and arguably the best, tiger trainers of all time. Mixing fact and fiction, Hough is able to flawlessly create a character so real the reader is unable to determine where the fiction begins.
Hough's Stark is a female protagonist complete with a human side. She is flawed, courageous and driven by a passion that propels her to the top. The daughter of tobacco farmers, Mabel was orphaned at age 11 and forced to learn how to survive alone in the world. This tragic yet uplifting tale leads Mabel to the circus in the early 1900s during the height of the venue's popularity. America's previous fascination for the circus provides the backdrop for the story that intertwines America's fickle love for stars. The reader is transported to the19 20's during a time when the circus was a magical event that would close down entire towns to ensure everyone could attend.
Hough unfolds Mabel's journey through the ranks of the circus - starting as a 'cooch dancer,' she learns the ability to hypnotize crowds and make men fall at her feet. She attracts a famous lion tamer, who agrees to train her and make her a star. Her natural talent, driven by the depth of her passion and willingness to go to any lengths, is what ultimately propels her to the top. Her unconventional life manifests in her relationships with men. "My men. Whew. Had a slew of them." Married five times, her passion generally remained reserved for the tigers. Hough's description of her interaction with the tigers leaves the reader breathless. One scene describes a lion teaching Mabel a lesson - the hard way…"Then he ripped. Pulled open my arm as slowly as you or I would open a letter…"
Throughout the tale, Hough is able to create a character that is unconventional and eccentric, yet able to teach the reader the power of compassion and overcoming adversity. The reader is able to absorb her life, empathize with her autonomous character, and walk away with an understanding how heroic her life really was.