Halloween is right around the corner so what better time is there for American Horror Story to roll out their new season. Previous seasons have taken the viewer deep inside a haunted house, an insane asylum, and a witches coven. Now the curtain rises on a 1950s freak show. Though I am a giant chicken when it comes to horror movies I can honestly say I’ve never been scared of clowns…until now. Twisty the Clown in one of the most terrifying characters ever.
But there’s so much more to Freak Show than just a scary clown. It’s a dark and interesting look into the lives led by freak show performers. It also explores small town prejudice, the drive for fame and notoriety, and what happens when people are pushed to their limits. If you like any combination of these elements, here are some books to fill the time between new episodes.
If you want circus or freak show based stories, my first recommendation would be Goldenland Past Dark.
It has a lot in common with Freak Show. Goldenland Past Dark the story of Mr. Show’s travelling circus as it makes its way across America in the 1960s. There are a number of similar characters, including a bearded lady, a “lizard” woman, and a hunchback clown named Webern Bell (who is also the narrator of the story). Like Elsa’s freak show, the circus has fallen on hard times and to make matters worse they’re being stalked by a mysterious stranger out to kill Mr. Show. The mysterious stranger may not be as terrifying as Twisty but there is always that constant feeling of dread that something horrible is just about to happen.
After his grandfather is murdered, sixteen year old Jacob is determined to make sense of some of the strange things he’s seen. With his father he travels to a remote island where his grandfather grew up, specifically the orphanage on that island, Miss Peregrine’s Home. His grandfather has always told him outlandish tales about the home and the children who lived there. However, the more Jacob looks around, the more he realizes that his grandfather’s stories may not have been so crazy after all.
This novel may not be very scary but the unique, vintage photographs included throughout are reminiscent of the Freak Show aesthetic. And like the show, this is the story of unusual people hiding out on the outskirts of society, afraid of how they will be received.
If what appeals to you about Freak Show is the closed community and the secrets and scandals within in, I recommend Omens, the first in Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville series.
After finding out that she’s the daughter of two of the world’s most notorious serial killers Olivia Taylor Jones needs a place to hide out out and avoid the media circus. She finds that in Cainsville — a small town full of dark omens and superstitions. There’s no freak show in this book but that doesn’t mean the characters are ordinary folk. In fact they’re anything but.
Maybe your favourite part of the season is Twisty the Clown. He may have given me nightmares for days but maybe you’re curious to find out more about him and why he is the way he is. In which case you may like Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst.
It may not have a serial-killer clown but it does have a serial-killer magician! The protagonist of the story is a girl named Eve, she doesn’t have any memories of who she is or where she comes from, but she’s been told she’s in the witness protection program after escaping said serial-killer magician.
This is also a good book if you like Freak Show’s conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler. In many ways Eve is a lot like them: all three are survivors, thrust out of their comfort zones, and on the run — Bette and Dot from the cops, Eve from the killer who won’t let her go.
Maybe you’re not a horror fan. Maybe you just like the 1950s and stories with a unique twist.
In 1953 Dr. Wilson Spriggs gave Marylou Ahearn a radioactive cocktail without her knowledge or consent as part of a government-funded experiment. That cocktail changed her life forever and she’s been plotting her revenge for over fifty years.
It’s a novel about a disturbing piece of American history with a lot of dark and dysfunctional characters. However it is also laugh out loud funny. No checking under your bed for clowns and freaks after reading this book!
Is Elsa your favourite character (so far)? Then you may like Judas Coyne.
Like Elsa, Judas is just slightly removed from the limelight. Whereas Elsa is trying to achieve fame, Judas has already done it. He was a world-famous rock star, now he’s a bit of a loner/recluse. But their other important similarity is that they are both collectors of the strange and unusual. Elsa collects the people for her show and Jude collects objects like sketches from serial killer John Wayne Gacy and a used hangman’s noose. So when the opportunity arises for him to buy a haunted suit online he can’t resist. From the moment the suit arrives at his house the novel takes a sharp turn into the creepy and never lets up. Like the show, Heart-Shaped Box keeps you on the edge of your seat and I do not recommended you consume either while alone in the dark.