Friday, April 3, 2015

Quick Sips - Unlikely Story #11.5 - The Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia

This month's Unlikely Story is the disturbingly named Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia (fear of clowns). It is...interesting. When I first heard about the project I was assuming there were going to be some strange stories, and this mini-issue does not disappoint. Collected are five clown stories that run the gamut from creepy to rather heartwarming. Also, for fans of the issue, Unlikely Story is running a Kickstarter for a whole collection of clown stories. So check that out. First, though, let's send in the clowns!

Art by Linda Saboe


"Five Things Every Successful Clown Must Do" by Derek Manuel (999 words)

Clowns lend themselves pretty well for humor, but it's also a clowns nature to disguise. They wear costumes and makeup and while most of the time it's to cover up the human and make it seem less so, this story imagines that same camouflage being used to make something decidedly inhuman appear human, or human enough to exist at the periphery of humanity to prey on humans. It's something of a tragedy told as an instructional talk given by one clown to others. This clown toed the line for a long time, hiding from humanity, working within the rules, living with their partner-clown. Until humans discovered their out-of-the-way sanctuary and killed the partner and now this clown is tired of hiding so rigorously. Tired of not slacking its hunger on human flesh. The tale builds as slowly as possible given its short length, and does manage to be both sad and creepy, making a more sympathetic character out of a creature that feeds on humans. It's a fun story, with a solid core and some nice flourishes, and it succeeds at making clowns seem even more suspicious.

"Perfect Mime" by Sara K. McNeilly (1038 words)

Well this story is intense. Visceral. It follows a woman who is a mime, who is trapped in a cycle of abuse and performance. She is a mime, made into a mime by the man she performs with. She cannot speak, and what he does to her in mime is rendered real to her. When she is tied by ropes, they are real. When she is whipped and chocked, it is real. It's a little difficult to read the violence that is done to her, making the story itself rather uncomfortable, but I don't see it as glorifying or condoning the violence. Instead it acts as a sort of symbol for domestic abuse in general. Here is a woman who cannot speak, who cannot be heard. She is abused in public, in full view of the world, and yet people don't sympathize with her. They think it a game, or a joke, or part of the show. They sympathize with the man abusing her, believing his winks that it's not real or that he's just fulfilling his function. Meanwhile she suffers silently, unable to ask for help. Again, a rather uncomfortable story, but one worth reading.

"A Million Tiny Ropes" by Virginia M. Mohlere (744 words)

A trapeze artist contemplates nets and falling in this story where she is told again and again by the trio of clowns in charge of her net that they'll catch her. That they'll always catch her. The story makes good use of the different interpretations of nets, those that catch one as they fall and those that catch one as they run. The first is safe, comforting. The second is a trap. And both exist here, as JennyAnne, the artist, tries to escape, tries to push herself free from the nets, tries to fly. The assurances of the clowns becomes something else entirely, the assurance that they'll tether her, that they'll capture her. She craves freedom but it's not really to be. For the moment, at least, she's stuck with always returning to the earth, stuck in the cycle of attempting to get away and not quite making it. But as long as she keeps trying, as long as she keeping hoping to fly, then at least she's not caught. The clowns might be circling, but they haven't got her yet.

"Everyone's A Clown" by Caroline M. Yoachim (1028 words)

A woman takes her daughter to the circus and catches a sort of disorder in the process in this story. At the circus, the daughter sees clowns for the first time, and finally has a name for something that she sees all the time. Because for her everyone is a clown, wearing their feelings on the outside. And it's something that she gives her mother, that ability to see. And her mother does not take it well. She seeks help but there is no real help for it. At first she thinks it's something wrong with her, but when she finds out that it's what her daughter sees, and that sharing the sight with her daughter makes her daughter somewhat happier, she tries to embrace it. Because though it's creepy and weird and disturbing, she refuses to turn away from her child. It's a somewhat sweet story, with a bit of humor and some nice heart. Which is a little strange given how genuinely disturbing seeing everyone as clowns would be. But still, it's sweet.

"Break the Face in the Jar by the Door" by Carlie St. George (990 words)

Another story about mothers and daughters, this one also focuses on a child with a disorder. Instead of a mental one, though, it's a physical one, as she develops a condition that makes her skin white, her face  painted. It makes her look like a clown. A sad one. Sad because her mother, the stories main character and the second person you of the story, is also sad. That she has to hide it because of an abusive husband. The story is sharp and effective, showing how people view normalcy and how some relationships are incredibly toxic, not physically abusive but emotionally so, filled with threats and manipulation and the story does a nice job showing the mentality of the mother, of how she's dealing with everything, how she starts to change because of her child, which is a bit on point as it is for her child that she likely made many of the concessions, or at least justified them. Biting and making good use of second person to get the reader to identify with the situation, the story ends on a positive note, full of hope and feeling. It's strong and resonant and a great way to end the mini-issue.

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