Tom Reamy’s 1978 Blind Voices is a stand-alone period-piece horror novel.
A pleasant summer in Hawley, Kansas. Communal awareness that the current economic downturn might be more than a passing phenomenon is only just beginning to sink in1. Young friends Rose Willet, Evelyn Bradley, and Francine Latham seek distraction from the dilemma faced by all Hawley women: look for happiness elsewhere at the cost of leaving family behind or settle for the best of Hawking’s regrettable assortment of marriageable young men.
Haverstock’s Traveling Curiosus and Wonder Show may be a cure for both ills. Haverstock offers immediate entertainment and a cure for the future.
Encountering Haverstock’s cast of wonders might be the last thing any of the teens will do.
Haverstock’s circus’ specialty is freaks, men immune to electricity, minotaurs, hermaphrodites, snake women and the like. Any cynic can think of ways Haverstock could fake his wonders. Many of Hawley’s cynics do. This suits Haverstock, as one secret he would like to preserve is that some of his wonders are genuine. In particular, Haverstock’s paranormal abilities are real, if not exactly as he presents them.
Rose’s eye is caught by handsome Kelsey, a circus ticket-taker. Soon the affair turns physical. Kelsey may be easy on the eyes and fun in bed, but he is not husband material. How will Rose rid herself of her smitten lothario?
Evelyn for her part is fascinated by mute Angel, a crimson-eyed boy who is Haverstock’s star attraction. When Angel and his friends Tiny Tim and Henry appear distressed, of course Evelyn befriends them. She does not understand the danger involved.
Poor Francine fares worst of all. She falls prey to the circus’ minotaur, who rapes and kills her.
Haverstock decides that his circus (which is merely a means to an end) has outlived its usefulness. He telekinetically murders the minotaur, then burns the circus. Most of his employees perish in flames. With two exceptions — faithful retainer Louis and Angel.
Haverstock’s abilities are amplified by Angel. Haverstock needs to find and capture the missing Angel. Anyone foolish enough to help Angel try to escape will be killed. Bad news for Angel’s friends, Evelyn in particular.
Reamy was a promising speculative fiction author whose career was cut short when Reamy died in 1977, at the comparatively early age of forty-two . For a very long time, his published books were limited to this novel and the collection San Diego Lightfoot Sue and Other Stories. Both were published after his death.
I was planning to review San Diego Lightfoot Sue and Other Stories. However, scarcely had I begun reading the interminable Ellison introduction than it occurred to me to check the copyright page. My edition was printed 1983, two years too late for the Tears reviews2. Thus a change of plans: I will a review of Reamy’s only novel and make a note to myself to schedule a read of Reamy’s 2023 Under the Hollywood Sign and Other Stories, which has three more stories than San Diego Lightfoot Sue3 and lacks the Ellison intro. Win-win!
Added while posting: apparently I reviewed San Diego Lightfoot Sue and Other Stories almost a quarter century ago. I don’t know how that could have slipped my mind.
Haverstock is kind enough to pause for a villainous monolog that provides a sciency explanation for his wonders. While the explanation would have been good enough for Astounding4, the story follows horror story conventions closely enough horror seems a more appropriate classification.
Characters in disco-era horror were well advised to avoid sex and any sort of deviation from the norm. Non-virgins are punished, virgins with untoward urges are also punished, and virtually all of the circus freaks are murdered by the time the novel is through. Rose survives, cannily ridding herself of superfluous Kelsey by pretending to innocently reveal his location to a homicidal Haverstock. A later scene strongly suggests that Kelsey impregnated her before she disposed of him, so she doesn’t get off scot-free either.
Reamy’s tale is diverting enough. His prose embellishes a skillful display of stock horror story elements. But that’s as far as it goes. I suspect it would have been a better book if Reamy had lived to finish his draft. Even as a draft, it’s good enough to make one wonder what Reamy could have done, given more time.
Blind Voices has been in print in the US as recently as the 2003 Wildside edition and in the UK as recently as the 2016 PS Publishing edition. At present, however, Blind Voices is out of print.
1: Some sources say this novel is set in the 1920s. If so, it is 1929. Not only does it seem clear that this is set during the early Great Depression, Haverstock’s main competition is a talkie staring Ronald Colman.
2: My review series, My Tears are Delicious to You, focuses on books I read as a teen, which is to say between March 18, 1974, and March 18, 1981.
3: One of the three added stories in the latest collection is “Potiphee, Petey, and Me,” which was trapped for half a century in Last Dangerous Visions hell.
4: Although the sex in the tale would never have got past Kay Tarrant.