Published by Rosedog Books, Circus of the Mind is a new take on the classic horror trope of the killer clown. It’s a quick read at just over 70 pages and features nearly two dozen original illustrations by the author.
Take warning, however: this book is not for the faint of heart. It tells the tale of the orphaned Obadiah, who is taken in by a reverend who owns a plot of land near the town of Willows Brook. The land is given over to a permanent carnival, and young Obadiah befriends the outcasts who work there—particularly Meena, a young girl from Latvia whose mother and grandmother are fortune tellers.
But when Obadiah and Meena are attacked and Obadiah’s adopted father is killed, Obadiah begins to transform into his alter ego, the terrifying clown called Oatmeal who is consumed with thoughts of revenge. Obadiah’s younger brother may be the only one who can stop Oatmeal and rescue Obadiah from his dark fate.
Circus of the Mind contains graphic scenes and is not an appropriate book for children. It is also, perhaps, not for the grammar geek, as this edition features numerous misspellings and typographical errors. The plot is mostly solid, if a bit rushed in places. Overall, Circus is a solid amateur effort from a creative writer and talented illustrator.
Though the plot may contain a few holes, it is the illustrations that really bring the horror movie feel, which can be difficult to summon from the written page, to life. Rather than simple depictions of plot points, most of Van Winkle’s intricate black-and-white illustrations feature montages of characters and places from his story. One image shows Meena, her mother and her grandmother with lines of power surrounding them. Another shows Oatmeal’s doleful gaze over a surreal collection of fairground sights: the skeleton of conjoined twins, a crystal ball, a painted carousel horse. Meena stands next to him, but closer to the viewer, her gaze abstracted and her hand raised as if to strike.
The images are eerie yet beautiful, helping the reader to picture the events and characters of Circus of the Mind without forcing a particular vision of each scene, thus allowing the imagination to run free.