Monday, January 2, 2012
Step Right Up for Carny Classics
What are the good sideshow literary classics? The Guardian takes note.
From the piece...
One of the greatest carny books of all time is Lobster Boy, the masterpiece of true crime writer Fred Rosen. I have written about it before, so I won't go into much deal here, but Rosen specialises in bleak, nasty, squalid crime, and in Lobster Boy he plumbs depths so banal and sad you'll want to cry, but will be left feeling so numb and dirty you won't be able to muster any tears. Lobster Boy is the story of Grady Stiles Jr, a man born with a genetic condition that fused his fingers and toes leaving him with lobster style "claws". Starting in the 1940s and ending in 1992 with Stiles's murder by a teenage stoner (and taking in violence, claw sex and murder along the way) Lobster Boy captures the dying gasps of the only world in which – for a century or so, at least – the two-fingered man was king.
Another book worth any carny aficionado's time is Freaks: We Who Are Not as Others by Daniel P Mannix. Author of Disney's The Fox and the Hound and the first popular biography of Aleister Crowley, Mannix was a connoisseur of the bizarre who ended his days living on a farm surrounded by miniature horses and reptiles. Freaks is his history of legendary sideshow performers such as Chang and Eng, or Grace McDaniels, the mule-faced woman. It's a blunt but sympathetic account of "freak life" and was pulped a month after publication in 1976: apparently the disco generation just didn't want to go there. Freaks remained out of print until Juno books issued a lavishly illustrated edition 20 years later.