“You have two days to pass your audition. You better pass it, feller. You’re joining the circus. Ain’t that the best news you ever got?”
Delivered by a trio of psychotic clowns, this ultimatum plunges Jamie into the horrific alternate universe that is the centuries-old Pilo Family Circus, a borderline world between Hell and Earth from which humankind’s greatest tragedies have been perpetrated. Yet in this place—peopled by the gruesome, grotesque, and monstrous—where violence and savagery are the norm, Jamie finds that his worst enemy is himself. When he applies the white face paint, he is transformed into JJ, the most vicious clown of all. And JJ wants Jamie dead!
Pitch-perfect blend of horror and dark humor. This novel will play on your fear of clowns in an entirely different way than when you were eight years old and you caught Stephen King’s It late at night when you weren’t supposed to be awake.
What are the key components that make a book excellent? Setting? Personally, I’ve always been a fan of the evil carnival/circus trope and this book delivers with a carnival from hell where neither the guests nor the sideshow acts are immune from the routine (and sometimes not so routine) danger.
Characters? From the sociopathically zany clown troupe to the demonic but devoutly religious circus owner Kurt Pilo to the everyman protagonist Jamie and his cruel clown persona JJ, every single character in this novel contributes something to the ambiance of twisted circus life.
Writing? Clear and concise, excellent pacing, and the jokes are delivered perfectly. It’s the kind of book that can be read in one sitting so I highly recommend setting aside the time for one night, stocking up on some chips and dip, and enjoying the horrific performance.
Trigger warnings: Violence, gore, small mention of sexual assault.
Trigger warning: rape, violence, murder, gore, drugs, and plenty of generally squicky things like necrophilia and cannibalism.
After escaping prison, serial killer Andrew Compton heads for New Orleans to pursue the art of what he calls “the art of killing boys.” He joins up with a dissolute playboy who has pushed his art to limits even Compton hadn’t imagined. Together they set their sights on a young Vietnamese-American runaway, whom they cast as the perfect victim.
I have to give some face time to one of my greatest book loves aside from YA, and that is horror. Are you familiar with Jeffrey Dahmer? Imagine if he acquired Dennis Nilsen as a partner at some time during his killing spree and lived in the French Quarter—that’s Exquisite Corpse in a nutshell.
So I have this tremendous love for Exquisite Corpse because it does two things that I love in horror fiction yet rarely see—the first is that it features gay protagonists. Yes, I love gay protagonists in everything, be it my YA or horror or fantasy or what have you. Poppy Z. Brite, in fact, has gay protagonists in all of his novels so if, like me, you’re kind of upset over the lack of queer representation in horror (or, for that matter, queer representation in contemporary lit about chefs in New Orleans), he’s always a good author to turn to.
The second thing is the twisted writing style. What could be more disturbing than the gruesome, gritty descriptions you might find in your typical horror novel? How about tender and loving and poetic? The sensuous tone of Exquisite Corpse is what sets it apart and makes it truly chilling. There is a quote on the back with which I have to agree:
"[Poppy Z. Brite] is the only writer I know who could write a guide-book to hell that would make me want to go there."