I have a serious inclination towards the darker side of things when it comes to my appreciation of the arts. Not exclusively limiting myself to the nocturnal, of course, but a morbid curiousity and a bent to the less mainstream nevertheless. Perhaps it’s simply because it is an avenue of existence that most people prefer to avoid; crossing the street to walk in sunshine, rather than skulking in the shadows of alleyways and gutters. Who knows? And let’s not dwell too long or deeply. “If you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you”…or something like that.
For those with similar aesthetic leanings, I thought I’d share a bit of ‘heads up’ on a long forgotten gem of a book. “Freak Show” is an interesting story. It is a story of many stories, in fact. Under the guidance, watchful eye and editorial nudgings of author F. Paul Wilson, a ragtag band of authors were brought together under the collective pseudonym of the ‘Horror Writers Of America’. Each was allotted a chapter in which to breathe life into a character – their own particular ‘freak’ – and contribute their unique brand of evil to the overall narrative. Wilson, himself, bookends the tale and interjects little chapterlings along the way to ensure continuity and that there is an actual story being played out, and not simply a series of disturbing vignettes. The end result is…well…let’s just say it will resonate. This is not a book to be easily relegated to the dusty recesses of the mind and forgotten.
This is not to suggest a flawless piece of literature, however. Quite the contrary, in fact. The central plot ‘device’ (a delicious turn of phrase, as you’ll see if you do indeed manage to track down and read this book) is more than a little thin, and the occasional change-up in first- to third-person narrative really throws the overall ‘voice’ off. And, at the end of the day, some of these authors are simply better writers than others.
Occasionally, though, magic happens in these pages and we end up with something that is sooooo much more than simply the sum of its parts. From the near-gothic sequence involving a Joseph Merrick-like character shuffling his way through an ‘almost dreamworld’ to the threatening and murky deep southern swamps…from the surreal darkness of a vampire-esque seer to the most depraved sexual collectings imaginable…from the blues-drenched edge of a campfire jam between a child and a child killer to the horrendous secrets of a snakelike schizophrenic…this is a nightmare tale of divine proportion. And a scavenger hunt to end all scavenger hunts.
This novel/short story collection (think Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” with a slightly more substantial plotline) is a macabre little tale with just the right blend of esoteric strangeness, B grade sexuality, atmospheric density and a broad range of taboo horror to add a little fear no matter what your literary palate and personal phobias. So…turn the light down low, pour a big glass of Ardbeg and settle in for a long trip with ‘The Peabody-Ozymandias Traveling Circus & Oddity Emporium’ around an America from days gone by. One where mud shows and carnival tents were still a relevant piece of Americana. And where the Freak Show still beckoned those with darker inclinations.
This is a tough book to find, and even tougher to get your hands on affordably and in decent condition. If you can track one down, though, I highly recommend doing so for those who like their horror more in the vein of the old school ’80s and early ’90s vibe. Simply unforgettable.