Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Circus Wagon

The Circus Wagon by Andrew S. Fuller – The Circus Wagon is a novelette available in a variety of e-book formats from Damnation Books. Fuller provides a compelling quick read. In this story, protagonist Christopher Epstein (an everyman figure) has hazy memories of an old circus wagon that used to sit in the yard of his grandmother’s house. The origin of the wagon is shrouded in mystery as noted in this excerpt from the text:

“Had Grandpa worked in the circus? No, the wagon was older than that, someone said. What was inside—rats? Bats? A lion’s skeleton? A blind old witch? No, tons of mosquitoes swarmed you at once if you got too close, and lightning bugs avoided that part of the yard.”

Through the course of the story, we meet Christopher Epstein as an adult and learn the circus wagon followed him and negatively affects his adult working life and relationships. People die. Surreal insanity subtly overlaps reality. The wagon itself remains an object of mystery and source of unknowable terror. Well done!

Now, I’ll note just a few minor criticisms:

  1. The mystery of the wagon itself never feels fully resolved and remains quite ambiguous, but this could also be a strength of the story depending on the reader. Some might argue the ambiguities add to the overall mystique. Others would argue otherwise. If you are a reader looking for a clear-cut denoument, you might want to look elsewhere. Me, I personally liked that the mysterious aspect remained such a mystery. It left me thinking about the myriad of possibilities behind the wagon’s very existence and purpose.
  2. I felt the protagonist, Christopher Epstein, was a little too passive of a character. Once again, some might argue this is a strength: it makes him an empty vessel in which a reader can possibly project some aspect of their self. But, as a reader, this passivity frustrated me.
  3. My main complaint would have to be length. Yes, it was a short story, but at this price ($2.99) you could buy entire novels in e-book format. At just 7,200 words, there isn’t much reading here for your buck. I read it in one sitting (about twenty minutes) in a doctor’s waiting room. This is no fault of the author, of course, but a slight criticism directed towards the publisher. Damnation Books could better serve their customers by putting together a selection of stories by Fuller (I, for one, was left wanting to read more of his short fiction) and upping the word-count to provide value for the customer. I’ll note here for full disclosure that I received a free copy from the author for review. Had I paid the full cover price, I may have felt a little ripped-off. But I need to give credit where credit is due: the cover art, design, editing, and formatting seemed professional.

To sum up: The Circus Wagon is a very well-written and engagingly mysterious – not to mention ambiguous – piece of supernatural fiction. Using my six-pack rating system, I give this story 4 out of 6 pints of Guinness. For the author, I toss in an extra shot of Bushmills Irish Whiskey as a chaser.

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