Circus + The Skin | Keith McCleary

A circus, a tattooed man named Sue and a cast of weird and wonderful characters. What more could you want from a book? Throw in a storm which displaces these characters to a confined setting and some strange goings-on and you’re bound to be intrigued.

For all these reasons, as well as that striking pink cover, I was itching to read Keith McCleary’s Circus + The Skin. When, upon further investigation, I read about Mr McCleary’s background, I knew that this would not be a boring read. After all, the man has been involved in the creation of seven graphic novels and even this novel was initially intended as one. Fortunately it grew beyond the borders of a graphic novel and now we have this pink wonder to read.

If you like traditional story-lines with cookie-cutter characters, this might not appeal to you. But if you’re up for the challenge of reading a novel which is hard to define – part hard-boiled noir, part Western and part horror, Circus + The Skin won’t disappoint. And if you don’t believe me, look what these guys had to say:

“Keith McCleary writes like a hard-boiled Nick Cave, while the wandering spirits of Harry Crews and Katherine Dunn look on in grim whimsy. His fast-paced yet character-driven tale of geeks and lion-tamers, bendable women and sinister showmen, and an illustrated man named Sue who can never outrun his past–or his present–never flags. CIRCUS+THE SKIN is a high-wire act of the tender, the fierce, and the deeply macabre.”
–Adrian Van Young, author of Shadows in Summerland and The Man Who Noticed Everything

“An unflinching and lyrical tale of a circus at the end of an era and an illustrated man whose tattoos whisper beneath his skin. McCleary’s prose is as a fever dream told by Ray Bradbury to Cormac McCarthy—a love letter in blood and ink mapping our collective journey from Vietnam to Coney Island toward an American doom from which escape is just another word for nothing left to lose. An impressive and unsettling debut.” –JS Breukelaar, author of Aletheia and American Monster

“Step right up and take a gander at one of the strangest circus acts ever assembled. Keith McCleary writes with the brutality of a sledgehammer and the precision of a high-wire artist. The America he conjures up in this unforgettable carny noir is old and riddled with darkness. With style for days and prose that sings on the page, CIRCUS+THE SKIN is a show you don’t want to miss.”–Jim Ruland, author of Forest of Fortune

About the book

When a circus caravan is torn apart by a destructive summer storm, the show’s tattooed man and his fellow performers are scattered across the wheat fields of a nameless hamlet.  The tempest’s survivors convene at a local boarding house, but a series of violent attacks and strange deaths sabotage their attempts to regroup. 

The show’s tattooed man is Sue, a middle-aged, world-weary war veteran whose days are haunted by dark memories. At night his inks call to him, seemingly alive. As the circus strains to stay the course, Sue’s sense of reality begins to fragment — and something reaches for him from the recesses of his past.

Circus + The Skin was published by Kraken Press and they kindly provided me with a review copy via NetGalley.