Step right up Ladies and Gentlemen, J.D. Strange, “The Artist Formerly Known as Newman”, has a new book out, The Circus. Strange has written a novella that will appeal to circus-goers everywhere. And have you ever met a person who hasn’t gone to the circus more than they should?
Strange lets you peak under the slick, flammable, paraffin-waxed Big Top, where a collection of clowns, acrobats, strong men, human cannonballs, bearded ladies, toilet-lickers and flimflam artistry reside. If you have a copy of Freak Show by Robert Bogdan in your home library then you will love the pathological specimens Strange has caravanned together. What is a circus if it isn’t a family? Our protagonist is Jimmy “Mr. Tightrope Walker” and the antagonist, his twin brother, Joey the Clown. A child has been murdered and hastily buried and the murderer is a mystery of sorts, but then all people are mysteries, so the suspects are obvious and not so obvious.
The author describes Jimmy:
“Twenty-eight or twenty-nine years old hair fallen to the collar, jeans and overcoat are of strange cut. The cage boy is all grown up and enjoys the delicious scent of fried bacon and freshly brewed coffee wafting from the kitchen.”
“The waitress looks over at me and I read her thoughts clearly, ‘What’s all this then? Circus in town?'”
James Dennison Strange must be one lousy hunter because he is one hell of a good story-teller. Who wants to sit around a campfire with a sharp-shooter anyway? The circus Strange has assembled doesn’t just come to town, it is open 24/7 for human curiosities, freaks and non-freaks, dreamers and nightmare awakeners.
The great Harry Houdini once said, “An old trick well done is far better than a new trick with no effect.” Strange has heeded Harry’s advice well; the story-telling is layered much like a clown’s makeup. No spoilers but a couple of the literary devices in The Circus have been used by good and bad novelists alike, often poorly. Not in The Circus. After all, magicians and novelists share commonalities; they both want to create imaginary worlds, but if you can see the trick coming too soon it spoils the illusion. And no one likes their illusions spoiled, especially clowns.
Woven into the two-part, 124 page novella are fun facts and history about the circus and the types of performers who call it home. My favorite is the tidbit on John Wayne Gacy, “dubbed the Killer Clown, assaulted as many as thirty-three young men during his ten-year reign of terror from 1968 to 1978”. That’s information Alex Trebek never asked about.
With the exception of a formatting error on page 25 of my review paperback copy, the text is beautifully edited. Strange rightfully credits Iain Donnelly in the dedication for his assistance, as well as my favorite German comedian, Tom Vater, whose clown knowledge must have been invaluable to the author.
How would I describe The Circus? It is a story about demons, abuse (of drugs and people), addiction and recovery, but mostly it is a story about the mind. A very good story about the mind. Strange is still capable of throwing flames but as the writer has aged his words are better paced and irony laced. There is great contrast between expectation and reality. The strange circus mastered by J.D. is chock-a-bloc with creativity, imagination, black-comedy, and darkness.
A writer’s words are more important than any critic’s. In Part II of the Novella, titled The Farm, Jimmy finds himself in recovery and at a meditation meeting. It is here where Strange sums up one of the morals of the book:
“I expect nothing. Expectations are resentments waiting to happen. It does us well to expect nothing and be grateful for everything, people. But between you and me, guys, together we are nothing less than a bloody miracle.”
Enter The Circus with no expectations and when the show concludes as you read the last page, in one sitting preferably, you will be grateful for the experience. J.D. Strange has created his own bloody miracle in the year 2020 – a great piece of longish short-form fiction in an age of instant gratification and 60 second movies. Good stuff.
Buy The Circus HERE.
Follow the My Strange World blog of J.D. Strange HERE