A hostile stranger is hunting Dr. Show's ramshackle travelling circus across 1960s America. His target: the ringmaster himself. Struggling to elude the menace, Dr. Show scraps his ambitious= itinerary; ticket sales plummet, and nothing but disaster looms. The troupe's unravelling hopes fall on their latest and most promising recruit, Webern Bell, a sixteen-year-old hunchbacked midget devoted obsessively to perfecting the surreal clown performances that come to him in his dreams. But as they travel through a landscape of abandoned amusement parks and rural ghost towns, Webern's bizarre past starts to pursue him, as well.
Along the way, we meet Nepenthe, the seductive Lizard Girl; Brunhilde, a shell-shocked bearded lady; Marzipan, a world-weary chimp; a cabal of drunken, backstabbing clowns; Webern's uncanny sisters, witchy dogcatchers who speak only in rhymes; and his childhood friend, Wags, who may or may not be imaginary, and whose motives are far more sinister than they seem.