I admit it; I bought this book because I was jonesing for American Horror Story and Twisty the Clown. I saw the cover and jumped at it. I did not realize that I had previously read a western by the same author. It is the genre that he is most well-known for and I loved the book and gave it a high rating.
I see Carnival for exactly what it is and I love it for what it is: pulp fiction and strictly entertaining. This is not a masterfully well written piece of literature with a strong thematic underpinning. Those features do belong to his western’s. No, this is strictly fun. A good creepy novel set in a travelling carnival.
The carnival comes to Holland, Nebraska after a forty year absence. But this is not just any carnival. This carnival is run by Nabo, a servant of Satan and the dark underworld. The carnival has returned to Holland to exact revenge for an injustice done to it in 1959.
The town is divided. There are those that have insight, can read minds and are believers in a higher good and those who are demons in disguise. Their true faces only come to light because the carnival is in town and the dark forces require all the help they can get in order to destroy the town.
The carnival is super creepy. People are drawn to hang around it before it even opens and a whole bunch of degrading things begin to occur around the town in darkness’ quest to corrupt. Some people, recognizing on a subconscious level what is happening, choose to get their families out of town. Others begin to lose their facades and succumb to their dark natures.
In a classic good vs. evil story, the good are a small band of disparate town characters. There are also a handful of good people with insight who are part of the “freak show” which satisfied my American Horror Story craving for some of the great so called freaks. The good band together against the evil and get an assist from some good folks who also happen to be dead and a police force that can hardly believe what their eyes are seeing.
The good also get an assist from animals who were killed due to cruelty and who come back to revisit their pain on their tormentors and killers. It was a little hard to read that part of the story but it gave me no small pleasure to read about their revenge. They would then be able to join St. Francis of Assisi and live out their eternity in wonderful loving splendor.
Don’t get this book looking for the great American novel. Also, there is some repetition in certain phrases. All of the characters are always described as “cutting their eyes” at each other. It’s annoying to read over and over and Martin Holland IV, the main character is a bit sanctimonious but as I said, read this for the sheer fun of pulp fiction – nothing more or less.
I can also recommend Johnstone’s western novels. More depth and truly the genre he appears to have enjoyed writing in the most. He has a wonderfully large catalogue of work to choose from and he is definitely underrated and underrepresented in the book world. Enjoy your time at the creepiest carnival since Elsa Mars and Twisty came to town.