By Nancy Springer (Silver Salamander press; 1994)
A good example of the type of freakishness that occasionally emerges from the pen of an otherwise mild-mannered author. The author in question is the prolific fantasy and children’s book scribe Nancy Springer, who here spins an unexpectedly bleak and disquieting account of freaks, mutilation and madness that occupies the same territory as FREAKS and GEEK LOVE.
The setting is South Florida, where Pageant, the well-off daughter of a plastic surgeon, encounters a grotesque frog-like young man named Iver. The latter was once good looking, even angelic, but wound up methodically disfigured by his sadistic father. To compound the cruelty the latter left Iver’s twin brother Evan intact, as a prince to compliment the frog. Upon meeting the two brothers Pageant is besotted with Evan’s good looks, even though he’s every bit as ugly on the inside as his brother is on the surface. As for Iver, he nurses a hopeless love for Pageant, and leaves her heartfelt poems she can’t help but be affected by.
Enter a motley band of human oddities led by a mysterious three-eyed man. These freaks have an incalculable effect on everyone involved, Pageant in particular. She comes to realize the unpleasant truth about her life–that her father is a murderous scumbag–and eventually snaps entirely, with dire consequences for all the men in her orbit. Throughout it all she can’t shake her attraction to the vile Evan, a fact that has further unpleasant consequences. Such overpowering hunger for love and acceptance is what drives all the protagonists, and also what precipitates their collective downfall.
The proceedings grow increasingly hallucinatory in the book’s later pages, which introduce a murkily defined supernatural personage that’s confusing above all else. Another problem is with the uneven prose, which alternates memorably poetic turns of phrase with plain crappy writing; this was one of seven(!) novels Nancy Springer turned out in 1994, which explains the apparent lack of proofreading. Her wonderfully fecund and disturbed imagination, however, cannot be faulted.