Jeremy C. Shipp
Redrum Horror, February 7, 2012
274 pages, Paperback $12.99
Review by Darkeva
If you thought Pennywise, the diabolical demon clown from Stephen King’s It was scary, or if you generally have an aversion to most clowns, should you be so bold as to pick up Attic Clowns by Jeremy C. Shipp, you’ll likely suffer from nightmares for days afterward. I tend to find clowns over-used, clichéd, but still, sometimes downright scary (Violator, or The Clown from Spawn anyone?), but there’s an obviousness about them in horror fiction that I tend not to like.
However, Jeremy C. Shipp’s Attic Clowns goes beyond the traditional role of clowns in horror stories. Yes, they’re there to evoke fear in the reader’s mind (and boy, do they ever), but they’re not just the author’s props. They go a bit deeper and take on a different meaning than what they might suggest at first glance.
As the title suggests, there are a number of attics and clowns involved. Not to mention spiders, male genitalia, angels, demons, ghosts, zombies, tentacles, and more, but most of the thirteen tales focus on clowns with the exception of a few. And I should mention that fans of hyper-real fiction will enjoy this as some of the tales get downright trippy.
Each story in this collection is unique in its own way. With so many different stories involving clowns, one would think that eventually, the author would repeat himself, or that the tales would come off as too similar, but Shipp has found a way to break this pattern, something that isn’t always easy to do with collections.
The zombie-themed first short story, Spider Clowns from Planet X, starts out with Stanley, who has a second sense for detecting zombies, but couldn’t tell Herbert, a high-ranking politician, is a “rotter.” Zombies got Stanley’s dad when he was a kid, which started him on the path toward zombie-killing. But things are not black and white here. Stanley makes some very grey decisions, and though there’s an element of the hyper-real toward the end, it will make you question whose side you would choose.
Microcircus focuses on a woman, Samantha, who keeps mini-versions of her family, her boyfriend, and most disturbingly, herself, in a miniature circus. When her actual boyfriend discovers this, things take a turn for the disturbing – this is a particularly interesting tale, as is Princess, a hyper-real tale about a guy who jumps through a mirror that leads to a hellish place. Dust Bunnies is about a woman, Vera, dealing with the death of her mother, and is a surrealist piece with the tragic undertone of the desire for a normal family (clown-phobics, consider yourself warned.
In Don’t Laugh, the narrator has a tiny version of himself living within his head, but he insists it isn’t him. His wife shows him a cover of A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein, pointing to that as the reason for his attic head syndrome, but things get weirder and lead to a bleak ending. In Blister, a man comes to terms with his brother’s death in his own way. He reads his brother’s fiction, which unknowingly gives birth to a creepy little creature.
Definitely one of my top five from this collection, A Quivering Gray Fog sees the narrator bargain with a strange, but hilarious little demon, Globcow, for a camera in exchange for toenail clippings. He believes a photo can keep demons out of his attic. There are some fantastic descriptions in this story, including Globcow using femur bones for skis. Globcow is easily my favorite character in the collection, with his unique voice, funny quips, and uncharacteristic willingness to help the protagonist. The big reveal, when it comes, is tragic, and ultimately very human, which is what sets this story above the rest.
My favorite piece is The Ascension of Globcow the Foot Eater, continuing the adventures of the mischievous demon. He has written a letter to a Seraph, and wants to atone. An angel, Zabareth is assigned to his case. This story definitely has more of an urban fantasy overtone to it, which I liked, as well as a more conventional plot structure. It’s charming to see Zab and Globcow bond, and Zab’s reassurances that Globcow will become an angel are heartening.
Little Mouse is another top piece, this one about a female ghost, Madeline, who wants to haunt another ghost in the same house, Todd, who was a clown in life. There are many ghosts, but only one, Halwell, helps the narrator haunt Todd, a murderer. When she makes it clear she’s not willing to call it even, things take a turn for the worse, but Madeline shows her resilience as a ghost as she would have in life.
In Soapmen, the narrator in this tale fights with a General and his soapmen, or soldiers, and try as he might, can’t remember what he did to them that was so bad. When you find out, it will surprise you.
The clown in The Glass Box likes to interfere with the lovemaking of a couple whose family he has been “assigned” to. He’s quite the diabolical one, and has some pretty grizzly punishing techniques for anyone unfortunate to get on his nerves. The Hobo explores clowns getting ready to go on the road, but the protagonist is haunted by bad family memories.
The final story, Giggles concerns Joan, who keeps a clown in her attic, Giggles, that’s been in her family for years. Entertainer is a divine calling in this world, but it entails losing many things. Soon, Joan’s entertainments aren’t enough, and Giggles demands more from Joan’s boyfriend, Mark.
Clown-o-phobes, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Overall, it’s a unique collection with a lot to offer horror fans, and definitely shows Redrum Horror’s willingness to take chances on horror that isn’t as obvious, that’s a bit more inventive, and that takes risks.