Goldenland Past Dark by Chandler Klang Smith (book review).

‘Goldenland Past Dark’ is the first novel by Chandler Klang Smith so it will be no surprise if you haven’t heard of her before but, judging by the quality of writing, I’m sure she will be around for some time to come. Make no mistake about it, this story is well crafted and presented. Very good indeed! What about the content? Well, this is a strange one. It’s a rather weird subject, somewhat unnerving, set in a travelling circus in the USA sometime around the early 1960s.


I don’t know anything about circus life except what I have seen in documentaries and movies. The author, as far as I know, has not been part of a travelling circus neither so I’m not sure how authentic this representation actually is but it certainly comes across quite well and is full of atmosphere and character. I imagine she has probably researched the subject quite well because when you read ‘Goldenland’, you become immersed in the circus and everything revolves round circus life.

This isn’t an ordinary circus. Trying to think of something similar, I’m reminded of an old movie called ‘Freaks’ which was set in a circus with lots of bizarre characters. ‘Goldenland’ has similarly bizarre characters and the circus is a ramshackle affair which travels around broken down towns in a destitute setting. Everything is dysfunctional, including the characters and the viewing public. When you read ‘Goldenland’ you are opening a door into the surreal, into a place that’s unfamiliar and potentially frightening. It’s not a comfortable place!

The main character is Weburn Bell, a young lad no more than sixteen and is a hunchback diminutive person with a compulsive behaviour problem. A clown, he dreams up surreal performances and tries to emulate them in the ring. The man in charge, Dr Show, is a nutter. He is obsessed by a belief that someone or something is out to get him, a belief which ruins the circus by setting it on a financially downward path taking them away from any future prospects of viability.

Along with these two, we’ve got a whole host of other characters, some you would expect to see in the circus. They include a lizard girl, the ubiquitous bearded lady, a barrowload of weird clowns and a poor old chimpanzee. Along with the ringmaster and some sinister fellows, they combine to make this novel a unique experience. However, it’s unsettling and abundantly curious. The circus is a place where you want to keep to the seats and not venture behind the scenes because what you may find could be unpleasant and in this story that’s definitely the case.

I can’t say I feel empathy with any of the people in ‘Goldenland’. That’s maybe the only downside to the novel. However, it is a story well told in English which flows and communicates, immersing the reader in the strange world of the weirdest circus you will find anywhere on the planet. This is one to read.

Rod MacDonald

April 2013

(pub: ChiZine Publications. 300 page enlarged paperback. Price: $11.87 (US). ISBN: 978-1-92746-935-4. Ebook: Price: $ 9.95 (US))

check out website: www.chizinepub.com

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