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Spotlight on: The Freakshow by Bryan Smith

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The Freakshow by Bryan Smith Bryan Smith, The Freakshow

A small Tennessee town once again falls prey to unexpected horrors in Bryan Smithís third novel. Pleasant Hills is the most recent site of The Flaherty Brothers Traveling Carnivale and Freakshow, and the sideshow is irresistible -- but not for the usual reasons.

Smithís previous novel, Deathbringer, was a revelation: a zombie novel not only with a fast-paced plot but also with intelligent, relatable characters (and including the only sympathetic zombie I have yet encountered). I was looking forward to his next book with great anticipation, eager to see what he would do for a follow-up, because a horror novel with fully developed characters is a rare thing indeed.

Instead, Smith took another direction entirely and surprised me with his variability. The Freakshow is very much like the carnival it portrays in that it focuses almost entirely on the visceral experience. Events occur quickly and feverishly, with little time to take a breath during the carnage.

With two novels so different in style and execution, it is impossible to deny Smithís range of skill. The only downside to this kind of roller-coaster writing is that I was a hundred pages in before I found a character I could identify with. By then, though, I was so swept up in the imaginatively presented torture being inflicted, that it was too late to care; I was in for the long haul.

Smith doesnít linger on the character development in The Freakshow, and everybody seems to talk with the same voice. The language is invariably profane; even the omniscient narrator sprays F-words with abandon. I donít have a problem with foul language per se, but to be effective, it should be used sparingly and suit the situation.

However, despite the lack of depth, Smith offers a fascinating cast of types: a two-headed woman with a love for humiliation, a jerk boyfriend with a taste for necrophilia, a clown with retractable teeth, and a car versed in sexual assault, just to name a few. If youíre looking for a literary thrill ride to tide you over until the state fair comes to town, The Freakshow is the book for you. Sit back and enjoy the ride; just donít expect it to linger long in your memory.

This is an expanded version of the review that was originally published in Down in the Cellar. Copyright 2007. Reprinted with permission.

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