A review by Shellie for Goldenland Past Dark by Chandler Klang Smith.
Shellie’s quick take: A sweet yet dark and mind-bending coming-of-age romance about a sensitive and small clown who is traveling with a circus during the 1960s.
Shellie’s description: It’s a slightly bizarre novel based upon the experiences of its relatable main character Webern (Bernie) Bell. What is special about Bernie is that he is only about 4 feet tall and has a hunch on his back. Not a typical person physically, he is, however, a natural fit as a circus clown for a small traveling show. While riding his unicycle near his home, he is discovered by the show’s dramatic owner, Dr. Shoenburg (Dr. Show for short). Dr. Show recognizes Bernie’s talent and propositions him for the circus. Bernie is happy to leave behind his childhood home to join the troupe, because he’s always felt like he doesn’t fit into a “normal” life. Within the circus he meets Nepenthe, the lizard girl, and falls in love; and finally he feels at home.
As this crazy story about love and growing up unfolds and events push him to face his inner workings, it becomes apparent that Bernie has his demons to work through – but he has his work cut out for him. Things become out of the ordinary when Bernie faces issues of death and has to question his identity, his familial attachments, his heart and some other weird happenings that he experiences.
Shellie’s thoughts: This is a terrific story with fun characters. I was completely intrigued about the main character Bernie, who is a sensitive soul and easy to like, which creates a desire to continue reading the story. Consequently I would say that this is more of a character-driven novel rather than action based, although it has its drama with its far-fetched ideas and happenings. It is certainly weird fiction, though what I liked best about Goldenland Past Dark is that it also feels realistic – well, almost.
In addition I particularly enjoyed the author’s simple and straightforward writing style which also sucked me in. Very clear and thoughtful, the writing just flowed for me. It’s a writing style that is relaxing without having to reread parts or to look up definitions for words.
I’d recommend this for fans of the circus and for those who enjoy likable yet non-mainstream characters - for example a bearded lady, a chimpanzee who’s behavior is almost human, a lizard girl with a disfiguring skin condition, and a grandmother who captures, cooks, and eats raccoons. It’s especially for those who want realism included within surreal events. 3.5 stars for this heartfelt and offbeat novel. I will definitely be looking for more from this author.
Chizine; Trade Paperback 300 pages March 15, 2013.