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The Pilo Family Circus

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture Posted by Joshua Chaplinsky

The Pilo Family Circus

'The Pilo Family Circus' by Will Elliott
Joshua Chaplinsky
Send in the muthafuckin' clowns.

Jamey’s got a problem. A problem with over-sized shoes and a red rubber nose. He’s been abducted by clowns and forced to join the circus. Accessible only by a network of port-a-johns and situated on the precipice of hell, The Pilo Family Circus has existed for centuries, harvesting human souls.  But Jamey doesn’t want to be a clown. He wants to go home. Unfortunately, every time he puts on the face paint he becomes JJ- a sadistic bastard with a penchant for terrorizing midgets and gypsies. JJ loves circus life, and has no intention of giving it up. So when Jamey becomes involved in an underground movement aiming to bring down the circus from the inside, JJ decides he might just have to kill him.

According to the About The Book page, The Pilo Family Circus was Elliot’s sixth attempt at writing a novel. He was nineteen at the time and had just dropped out of law school and been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He churned out the first draft in a feverish three-month period of sleep deprivation and psychiatric meds. Many years and revisions later, the novel was finally published in his native Australia. It went on to win numerous Australian literary awards, none of which I’ve ever heard of. The book was published in North America in 2009 with a praise filled introduction by Geek Love author Katherine Dunn. The woman may not have published a book since 1989, but she knows her circus freaks.

This impressive back-story only adds to Elliot’s accomplishment. Circus is a quick, easy read, written with a refreshingly simplistic style. I wouldn’t exactly call it minimalism, but the man is not trying to impress with flowery descriptions and five-dollar words. In fact, having just read and reviewed Blindness, it was a welcome change of pace. A literary palate cleanser before my next big meal. The narrative is a bit loose at times, but it all comes together in the end in an epic showdown of evil and eviler. Circus may have started out that way, but it definitely doesn’t feel like the work of a nineteen year old. Elliot let it spend enough time in the oven before serving it to his guests. 

The story itself is an enjoyable mix of Tales From The Crypt and The Three Stooges. It starts out as a nasty bit of work, but eases into a more slapstick style of violence as it progresses. I wasn’t in love with some of the supernatural aspects of the story, but I went with it. It has been compared to both, but is more Stephen King than David Lynch. This is not a well-dressed man who knows where your cute butt is hiding; it is a gaggle of lobotomized Frank Booths in face paint hunting you down. And, oh yeah- those psychos just may have been the catalyst behind the holocaust. Maybe.

While certainly not high literature, Circus is fun as hell and damned imaginative at times. This will definitely appeal to Chuck fans with a hunger for mayhem, but won’t alienate those who have grown less angsty with age. This is not the story of an angry young man; it is the story of an angry young clown, and who can’t relate to that? Unless you suffer from acute coulrophobia, you just might enjoy a trip to this circus.