Zloty Kornblatt is the hapless ringmaster of an even more hapless circus troupe. But one fateful night, Zloty makes a mistake: he accidentally makes his audience laugh. Here on the outskirts of Burford-where the population subsists on a diet and a whole economy keyed primarily to pickles-laughter is a rare occasion. It draws the immediate attention of the local bureaucracy, and by morning Zloty has been branded an "instigator, conspirator, and fomenter" and is detained.
When the circus troupe awakes, they gloomily assume that their leader has abandoned them in the night. But when a local functionary spills the truth about Zloty's fate, the performers rouse themselves to spring their leader from his cell, their arcane talents (an escape artist who can fold his body into compact shapes, a strongman with an affinity for miming, an old dog with the ferocious heart of a lion . . .) suddenly strangely useful. Unlikely success follows unlikely success until, suddenly, it doesn't . . . and it's left to Flora Bialy, Zloty's understudy and our shy narrator, to save the day.
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