Written by: James Keen
“…why ruin the mystery?” -‘Clowns.’
Bear Matthew’s debut horror novel appears to be aimed squarely at entertaining the burgeoning Young Adult market. His teen-aged protagonist, Rayden Marie Jordan, known to her friends as ‘Ray’ takes us on a journey through familiar territory for those who regularly indulge in watching horror movies or reading dark fiction. Told entirely from Ray’s point of view, it’s Matthew’s portrayal of his heroine that proves to be the novel’s saving grace which is propitious because his narrative argument proves to be almost painfully transparent from the outset.
We begin with a quick bedroom-based setup, Ray’s with her best friend Jamie, generally chit-chatting about boys, sex and the various minutiae of high school life. Ray is a studiously self-aware girl, determined to remain faithful to her current boyfriend, Drake, careful to avoid repeating her one romantic faux-pas, lamenting, “Expect for that one time in 1st grade when I cheated on my first boyfriend Tyler with another boy in our class, he gave me his juice box, how could I turn him down.” With character back-stories established it’s not long before the author decides to get things moving along with Jamie suggesting, “Let’s watch something scary”.
The observations that Matthew highlights regarding Ray’s endearingly narrow world-view are downright hilarious at times, but can be disorienting for the reader for that reason. This book comes across as an attempt by the author to write something approximating an ongoing diary, a journal detailing horrific events told from a teen-aged girl’s perspective and while the deliberate typos, abrupt shifts in tenses and grammatical errors are there to highlight that, the story-telling device completely diffuses any tension Matthew may be trying to elicit. Lines like, “the text message ran through my body like the blood in my veins”, “I wasn’t sure Drake was a clown, but I wasn’t sure he wasn’t either” and one laugh-out loud observation during an abduction when Ray is having a chloroform-soaked cloth pressed over her face, “at least if I was dying I had something nice to smell” serve only to disconnect the reader from the supposedly grim circumstances our heroine finds herself in. By the time the clowns arrive in the narrative the book has already begun to devolve into a moderately engaging game of ‘spot-the-cliche’ for the reader.
Mathew uses oddly dated pop-culture references in his tale-a major one being a nod to a series of movies that were incredibly popular in the nineties which is surprising given that his book appears to be targeted towards teen-aged readers today; surely the cultural zeitgeist has shifted somewhat since then? The movie allusion in question is particularly damaging for an astute genre audience expecting anything new or subversive as it’s this particular film’s story elements that are regurgitated ad nauseum here.
Though generally fast-paced with a few gruesome deaths and peppered with some unremarkable sex scenes Clowns makes for a disappointingly wearing read. Admittedly this reviewer is perhaps not the intended audience for this jauntily written piece. Near the book’s ending, one character mentions, “Coulrophobia” – the irrational fear of clowns, in relation of course, to the titular ‘monsters’ populating Matthew’s story and this tale may very well appeal to those who do find them fearful and terrifying. ‘Clowns’ the book, on the other hand -for this reviewer- elicited an entirely different response; a reinvigorated aversion to slothfully imitative art.