By Darryl Wimberley
Published by Toby Press (2008)
I don’t remember if I was in high school or college and I don’t remember whom I was with but I sure do remember the movie. It was called Freaks and it was made in 1932. The story centered on a group of side-show entertainers (or “freaks”) whose leader, Hans the “midget,” was infatuated with the circus’s “normal” trapeze artist. The trapeze artist feigns interest in Hans because he is set to inherit a large sum of money. In the meantime she’s shacking up with the “normal” strongman of the show and together they concoct the plan to rid Hans of his money. The “freaks” discover the devious plot and, well, let’s just say they have their revenge in the end. I bring up Freaks because my old college professor, Darryl Wimberley, has written a new novel, Kaleidoscope, that calls to mind the now cult classic film.
Kaleidoscope is set in 1929 on the eve of the stock market crash and the Great Depression. The story follows a speakeasy and gambling addicted Jack Romaine who is trying to escape the clutches of a mob-connected and very dangerous man. With no choice but to go along, Jack finds himself on the trail of some stolen loot. If he can reclaim the goods he’ll have his debt to the gangster erased. Another wrench is thrown into the plan when Jack discovers that he’s not the only one after the money. Unfortunately for Jack the other hunter, Arno, happens to be a psychopath with a mean streak a mile wide. The trail leads Jack to Kaleidoscope, a place for carnival freaks to lay low in the circus off-season. Jack tries to fit in amongst the dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins and bizarrely skinned inhabitants while trying to locate the spoils.
Meticulously researched, Wimberley throws you headlong into the era. It’s an era when adults said things like, “Don’t crack wise with me, mister!” to their younger brethren. Just as deeply, Kaleidoscope imbeds the reader in the physical setting – from the mean streets of Cincinnati to the backwoods of Florida. When reading you feel the heat and humidity, you hear the lightning fast dialogue and you see the “freaks” Jack is becoming attached to. Not to mention the repulsion one feels when witnessing the sadistic carnage Arno leaves in his wake.
As with all of Wimberley’s works, Kaleidoscope flies by. It’s a page-turner in the truest sense of the term – taut story telling with a flair for the sensational. There’s no real sub-text here – it’s all up front and told with brutal, rock-em-sock-em action packed prose. Wimberley doesn’t mince words or hold back on depicting the action unfolding before you – whether it’s a wrenching family separation, extreme violence, the underdog conquering the odds or coitus. In short, I enjoyed the read. Then again I’m a sucker for sadistic violence and sex scenes involving a blue-skinned heroine (Coffee Gal Note: “My husband is joking about that last line – just to make sure you don’t think he’s some sort of deviant. Thank you and carry on.”).