Monday, December 30, 2013

Twittering from the Circus of the Dead (mini-fiction reviews part 1)

                   In an effort to communicate my feelings and issues over two of the works I've read, I have decided to do two mini-reviews, as befits the short story and novella I've decided to cover. If this should prove fruitful, I may continue in this manner. In any case, it beats just sitting on them or not talking about them, right?

         I want to know who the hell ruined Joe Hill's day. I don't know who it was, but he's started mining some very dark, depressive, disturbing veins with his craft. It's still brilliant writing. Don't get me wrong, NOS4A2 is a book I hold in high regard and everything I've read from him has been top shelf work. But in taking Hill's body of work as one cohesive whole, even at his most brutal in Heart Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts didn't achieve the twisted depths his more current work calls home. And while I may still prefer the earlier work to the later strains, I still find the story an incredible work. 

         I read "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead" at ten in the evening on a rather dull night. Despite having several other tabs open at the time*, I sat there, eagerly turning the page, reading more and more as the story unfolded. By the end, I wasn't sure if I were able to go to sleep at the end of the night. And as each new line of the story progressed, I felt a lovely sense of dread growing bit by bit.  It's an unsettling story, and that it takes such a short time (I read it in one sitting) only adds to the unnerving nature. It's a more concentrated dose, and Hill's always been a master of delivering quick punches in a narrative. In short, this is a brilliant short story, and well worth the meager price of admission. 

          "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead" is the story of Blake. Blake is a teenage girl from California who has been dragged on a trip to Colorado with her family. As the story unfolds in quick 140-character tweets, we learn about Blake's annoying little brother, her overbearing mother, and her beleaguered father. We get tiny snapshots of Blake's life and what she thinks of everything as her family gets up at six in the morning to take the long drive back to their home. For a while, it's easy to identify with Blake. Her annoyances, some small moments of bonding, and her disbelief at her brother's antics. It's an enjoyable family-bonding kind of thing.

But then.

         But then Blake's family pulls in at a roadside attraction called The Circus of the Dead. But then her dad buys tickets to the show from a man who looks plague-stricken. The ticket taker wears a hazmat suit "so he doesn't get bitten." The show involves a stilt-wearing ringmaster clad in only her underwear who tells the audience that the circus took her prisoner and forced her to perform. And that's only the start of the strange and disturbing things in store for Blake and her family. Because when they thought they would be entertained for an afternoon, they found something with very, very sharp teeth. 

           The compressed length makes the story disturbing, and the idea of Twitter as a platform for telling this kind of story, while perhaps not as new as others, gives it a certain level of immersion. Were this told in the conventional style, there would not be much to define it from a thousand other teen horror stories. But it's the medium that makes it terrifying, mainly due to the economy of language. It's what we don't see that's just as terrifying as what we do. Those little 140-character bursts allow the reader to fill in all kinds of unnerving blanks, as the breathless messages grow more anxious and disturbed. Joe Hill handles that economy quite well, and it shows in that he's just as terrifying in this format as any other. Hill's voice is also strong. I can easily believe that this is a teenage girl. The issues come in when occasionally that voice stretches credibility, but there aren't too many of those places, and in the end, it's a fascinating read. 

        Find this. Read this. You can read it on your computer just as easily as anywhere. It's definitely worth the ninety-nine cents, and it delivers a ride that few can in this format. 

UP NEXT: "Clockwork Girl" by Athena Villaverde

*I read most of my ebooks on my computer. My Kindle has sadly died a queenly death and Amazon steadfastly refuses to replace or repair it with anything but a newer and sadly inferior model. 

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