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.