I’m the sort of person that enjoys doing things that really, really freak me out. Roller coasters. That giant thing at Huntsville Space and Rocket Center that sends you plummeting into nothingness and slingshots you back up. The “Super Mario Brothers” movie.
So when I saw a Largehearted Boy review of Will Elliot’s The Pilo Family Circus that begins with this:
The Pilo Family Circus is horrifyingly surreal, the story of clowns who take an apprentice into their otherworldly circus. Elliott has earned comparisons to Chuck Palahniuk and Stephen King, but his fresh creative (and chilling) approach to fiction stands on its own.
I was almost, but not quite, obligated to hunt this book down. Then I saw the cover.
A clown. An effing clown, glowing eyes, stupid creepy smile-the scariest possible thing in the world.
The back-story to The Pilo Family Circus, Elliot’s first published novel, reads almost like twisted dream itself. After dropping out of law school and being diagnosed as schizophrenic, Australian Will Elliot began experimenting with sleep deprevation and other self-torture methods to produce ideas and concepts from the brink of sheer insanity.
And this book, finally brought to American soil (after a multiple-award-winning Australian tour of duty) thanks to Underland Press, shows it. In a nutshell, The Pilo Family Circus is the story of Jamie, a boy who finds himself trapped amongst the lost and adrift souls in a horrific, hellish circus. After being slowly broken down by his new family, a group of freakish, sadistic clowns, Jamie splinters an alternate personality as JJ, a clown that uses youth and innocence to protect himself. Jamie spends his time attempting to pull at the thread of what the Pilo Circus is really about, with its grotesque freaks, a matter manipulator that can turn flesh into the most disgusting things, and the seemingly mindless mob of sheep that are the circus’s patrons, called “tricks”, but immediately upon applying his clown make-up all semblance of self disappears as JJ takes over-and horrific things begin to happen.
There’s not much, not much at all, that I can say about The Pilo Family Circus without giving away bits of the gorgeously grotesque layers of theme and meaning that Elliot lays, one on top of another, within the book. Addiction, sadomasochism , um…copulation with ferns…it’s all there. And it makes for a terrifying hell-ride of a read.