Did you know that I wasn’t terrified of clowns until I realized so many people were? To make a long story short, they made such convincing points of why everyone should fear clowns that I began to fear them as well. I mean, who in their right mind would wear globs of ridiculously tacky make-up and a much-too-large painted-on smile? Well, besides 95% of the girls I knew in high school, that is. Anyway, since then I am happily anti-clown. Well, not exactly. Because I don’t like clowns, I automatically think of them as villains. As a literature girl I believe there should always be a good villain and why not make the villain a clown? Enter the novella Clown by Matt Shaw.
This man is a clown and he loves it. He loves making children laugh when he performs at their birthday parties and he even said he’s not in the profession strictly for the money. The conflict: Some kids are too mature for clowns, as revealed when a birthday he was hired for fell through for him. He was the type of person who was so even-tempered he didn’t even realize the cancellation-with-no-phone-call hurt him until at least five minutes (probably even longer, although no time frame was given) after finding out. The even larger conflict: This man probably has DID/Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and his second personality is a serial killer. The novel is told from the perspective of the man and the perspective of his second personality interchangeably and it can get confusing to know who’s talking. Overall, the best way to know is that the man is a non-violent, good-hearted, but unfortunate character and his second personality is foul-mouthed and only interacts with people if it benefits him. In the end, the second personality gets so strong it overpowers the man and only one personality can “win”. I won’t spoil the ending because it’s interesting enough for everyone to read for themselves, but let’s just say that I was surprised.
I had a few small problems with this novella but I also liked it. Before I go into my reasons, I want to put it out there that Matt Shaw is a hit-or-miss author for me. Some of his novellas have a compelling villain but there’s no character that emerges as the hero or that you can root for. If you’re like me and like the traditional good vs. evil angle, Matt Shaw may not always deliver for you. This one is similar where in fact there aren’t many supporting characters outside of the man and his second personality, but you can cheer for the man because he’s likable. Furthermore, I appreciated that when this novella was advertised on the cover as psychological horror, it was exactly that. I’m just thinking that with an author like Matt Shaw, it’s not a case of “I love everything he’s ever written!” or “Oh my god, this guy thinks he’s a writer?” Clown was particularly interesting, but I felt like based on other novellas I read from him, it’s an outlier.
Now let’s get into the meat of this novella (no pun intended). There were qualities that deeply bothered me and I definitely need to share them with all of you before offering the redeeming aspects. You don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to, but before reading Clown, ask yourself if you can read about poorly portrayed mental illness without being offended. It is the psychological angle that kept me reading but I also felt like there are unfortunate implications with the way DID was portrayed. I’m not an expert, but I know that there are different types of DID. The man had an extreme version where not only was his second personality a serial killer, but he was out-of-the-loop with actions “he” committed when the second personality came out. For example, the second personality revealed that after he killed children, he organized their corpses in the basement and painted a particularly graphic image of each one. The man didn’t even know what happened when the second personality took over even though the secondary personality “talked” to him about what he was doing. From what I’ve read about DID, it’s either that you know about all your personalities and they know about you or you make sudden changes and don’t remember anything from one personality to the next. It’s not like the way Matt Shaw portrayed it in the novella. In addition to this, I feel uncomfortable calling this an evil clown novella because it’s a little more complicated than that, but the synopsis doesn’t pay it justice. There is an evil clown, but it isn’t the man except when he’s controlled by the second personality. I also give a loud “Boo!” to Matt Shaw for making it sound like the second personality was a physical entity walking beside the man wherever he went. It didn’t add to the drama of the novella; in fact, it made the novella more confusing than it had to be.
My final thoughts about Matt Shaw’s Clown is that if you can get it “free” on your Kindle Unlimited, do that before you purchase it. I like it in spite of its (major) flaws, but I’m sure there are going to be people who are immediately turned off for some reason or other. It is worth a read according to me, but like any book that I’ve enjoyed in some sense, I advise you all to exercise your own judgment.
When we move away from the portrayal of DID, there are some seriously redeeming qualities of the novella. As I said in a previous paragraph, the man was a likable character. When readers were meant to feel sorry for him, they could because he was put in unpleasant situations and made honest attempts to put aside his “Poor me, poor me” sentiment. When the secondary personality overruled him, you could still separate that personality from the man. The villain of the novel that you were supposed to hate was always the second personality, not the man. Furthermore, I know this isn’t part of the plot or characters in the novella, but the writing style was readable and had a decent flow. I know it seems like a weird thing to compliment an author/novella on, but this was a self-published novella and, uh, there are things about self-published novellas. Mainly that they are assumed to be of poor writing quality. I could definitely think of changes that would make Clown better than it is, but there weren’t major spelling, grammar, or formatting errors.
Greg and Sheila Heyman have a monster of a son. No, really. Their son Gabe is a scientific experiment created by an underground organization. They don’t care that at six years old Gabe is more animalistic than human and requires live animals for food. He’s their son and they conveniently ignore all of his monstrous qualities. Their unusual but routine existance is shattered when Gabe matures into a teenage creature that needs to kill his own food. Will Greg and Sheila allow their son to make his kills as science intended, or will they finally put the kibosh on him?
Proud Parents is a difficult book to review because it’s exactly what I wanted to read when I purchased it and the writing is engaging from beginning to end but…I really didn’t like it. I want to tell you that my two main problems with the book are the characters of Greg and Sheila and the explanation of Gabe’s creation, which absolutely are problems. I’ll definitely explain why because those two qualities are the easiest to explain. There was another major problem I had as well but it’s harder for me to pinpoint it. The best way for me to explain it is that the synopsis of this novel was excellent and 100% accurate but the synopsis was considerably stronger than the novel itself.
Greg and Sheila Heyman were the worst characters I’ve read about in a month, and this includes characters from novels and short stories I’ve read for college. My college reading has the defense of being required reading while Proud Parents as “fun” reading does not. I completely understood that after Greg and Sheila couldn’t get pregnant through natural means they would fiercely protect their science experiment offspring like their own blood and that could mean doing unethical actions, but that they never questioned such things as killing people for Gabe to have fresh blood was just wrong. There was only one example where it possibly crossed Sheila’s mind that even to keep Gabe alive there had to be limits and that was in chapter 44 when Sheila internally ran over the problem of her husband immediately turning to “We have to lure people into the house so we can kill them and give them to Gabe.” Kristopher Rufty worded it better than this obviously, but that’s the gist of it. Furthermore, that is literally the only time that either of these people have any hesitation with their actions and in the end it doesn’t matter because Gabe is more important than morality.
The whole business of Gabe’s creation is far-fetched even for speculative fiction. If you read chapters five, six, and 45 you find out the whole story. Gabe was created as a part of Project: Newborn as an extremely underground experiment. There were six families plus the Heymans who participated in the experiment and four mothers died giving birth while only two were successful. Of the two that survived, only one family had a normal offspring. You see, these weren’t normal offspring. The scientists involved in Project: Newborn mixed human, primate, and reptile DNA thinking that the human DNA would take over. Furthermore, they expected that any hybrid offspring that was more creature than human would die in a short amount of time (not specified, although Dr. Henry Connors, one of the scientists involved in Gabe’s creation, was surprised that he had survived up to age six). Gabe was predominantly a lizard with his scaly green skin but he had the climbing skills of a primate and at a distance if people ignored his scales and claws and fangs he did resemble a young child. Slight problem: Gabe went through puberty midway through the novel and it was insanely disturbing to read about his bodily changes because he then functioned like a teenager but was still in a six-year-old’s body. In general I like the idea of a human/primate/reptile hybrid because authors are forced to use their imaginations since few already-published novels use those types of entity combinations, but I didn’t like how it was used in Proud Parents. To give credit to Mr. Rufty, once Gabe was created and going through mutations, that made some sense to me. Just like humans go through changes, I would assume primates and reptiles do as well. Still, I always come return to the idea that if these hybrid offspring weren’t supposed to live up to six years of age while Gabe was not only surviving but becoming immortal (or at least able to regenerate after major injuries), then what was so different about Gabe allowing him to do so?
Here’s the thing: This book had a delightful synopsis that actually summarized the story accurately. I appreciate that because I have read other books about non-human offspring where the synopsis said one thing and the book told a completely different story. I want to give credit where credit is due, so thank you Kristopher Rufty and Samhain Publishing for being honest with your synopsis and novel. I just felt like the synopsis told a stronger story than the actual novel. While the novel had filler descriptions of neighbors that became involved with the Heymans (usually as food), the synopsis cut out that blabber and focused specifically on the problem of Gabe being a monster. I would recommend that if you’re curious about reading Proud Parents, just read the chapters about the Heymans, Gabe, and Dr. Henry Connors.
In the end I refuse to make a “Read this!” or “Never touch this with a million foot pole!” judgment because there are good and bad points about this book. If you like reading books about offspring that aren’t entirely normal, maybe you’ll find the science/”science” compelling enough to give this one a try. I do love the “evil kid” genre of entertainment media and I feel safe in saying that that is why I purchased this book. It’s true that I thought there wasn’t solid justification for how Gabe was created and managed to survive and become stronger but I feel like another reader may not have problems with this. The only thing I’d definitely recommend is reading the reviews of this book on Amazon or Good Reads (if the book exists on there) before purchasing it.