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Blind Voices Mass Market Paperback – Jul 1979

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback
  • Publisher: Berkley Pub Group; First THUS edition (July 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425041654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425041659
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2.5 x 12.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 23 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,550,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars 13 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark fantasy with SF undertones July 5 2016
By Mithridates VI of Pontus - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Tom Reamy’s Blind Voices (1978) was nominated for the Nebula, Hugo, and BFSA awards and came in second in Locus voting for best novel in 1979. Posthumously released, Reamy died of a heart attack while writing in the fall of 1977 at 42. His take on small town America transformed by the arrival of a traveling circus and its array of wonders will stay with you for years to come. The science fiction elements (revealed more than halfway through the novel) interlace and add to the elegiac and constrained fantasy feel. The specter of sexuality and violence spells cataclysm.

Plot Summary/Analysis (*spoilers*)

“It was a time of pause, a time between planting and harvest when the air was heavy, humming with its own slow, warm music.” (1)

With this line we are drawn into the world of Hawley, Kansas sometime around 1930. A small American town like so many where old men “tell[…] half-remembered or half-invented stories of better times” and “pontificat[e] on the government, President Hoover, the Communist, the Anarchists, the Catholics, the Jews, the stock market, and other topics about which they knew little nothing” (4). Economic woes nag at every mind. The heavy air “humming with its own slow, warm music” is pregnant with impending disaster (1).

I hold the trope (my knowledge is mostly cinematic I must confess) of a circus entering and disrupting a town’s rhythms close to my heart: the spectacle of pseudo-science, lost knowledge, wonder, oddity… A few memorable instances: In Bella Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)—based on László Krasznahorkai’s novel The Melancholy of Resistance (1989)—the arrival of a circus master and his sole attraction, a massive taxidermy whale, creates instability and violence (a political allegory of Eastern-Europe in the post-WWII world). In the noir Nightmare Alley (1947), the rise and fall of a con man (an on point Tyrone Power) starts behind the scenes of a traveling circus. In Ingmar Bergman’s The Magicians (1958) the leading townspeople attempt to debunk the “magic” of a traveling magician played by the great Max von Sydow. There are countless other examples, Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), Bergmann’s Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), etc.

In Blind Voices, Haverstock’s Traveling Curiosus and Wonder Show, announced by its ramous steam calliope, rattles and creaks into Hawley conveying an array of marvels—The Invisible Woman, The Minotaur, Medusa, Angel the Magic Boy, The Snake Goddess, half man/half woman Henry-etta, and Little Mermaid. The circus must compete with Bulldog Drummond (1929), the local theater’s first talking picture. The circus impresario’s lackey unleashes a skunk into the theater to delay the premier!

The narrative follows three young women—Evelyn, Francine, and Rose—in the liminal moment in the summer after high school, whose lives will suddenly be transformed. Possessed by an uncomfortable sexual tension and hidden desires, the circus and its act simultaneously repulses and seduces. Francine accidentally touches the Minotaur—“He was a tall, powerfully muscled man, wearing only a loincloth” whose face had only “a suggestion of bovine features” (32)—and “jerked it away with a little gasp” adding “fuel to the heat already enclosing her body” (35).

The most spectacular marvel is Angel, the Magic Boy who seems channels the elemental forces at the coaxing of Haverstock. Who is controlling who? An aura of decadence and decay permeates the wonder show: Tiny Tim, a mere twelve inches tall, can barely move and the Mermaid “had the look of being half-finished”, “her small breasts were like deflated bladders. Her arms were small and her fingers stubby and webbed. Her head was bald and scaly; her mouth very small with horny lips, her eyes round and lidless like a fish” (36). The Snake Goddess refuses to make her passage down the aisle, her snakes terrifyingly real. Some of the marvels, the Invisible Woman, are clearly fakes. While the others are unsettlingly animalistic and real. The townspeople debate each and every marvel in earnest while they wait for the second showing.

Meanwhile, Evelyn encounters Angel, the Magic Boy and Tiny Tim. Rose falls for Kelsey Armstrong, an exotic show hand and dreams of running away. And Francine thinks of the Minotaur…. Angel, the Magic Boy, perhaps inspired by his meeting with Evelyn rebells, in his own way, against Haverstock. The Minotaur, possessed by his sexual energies looks for a victim before Louis, Haverstock’s righthand man can find him a suitable woman. A cataclysm looms on the horizon as Haverstock’s control on his troupe, both human and animal, falls away. And when the violence comes, Reamy holds nothing back.

Final Thoughts (*spoilers*)

The way Blind Voices unfolds demonstrates Reamy’s craft—we, the audience, observe the world around the tent, wander into its mysterious interiors, speculate about the wonders, and learn all the secrets behind the glass and spectacle. The pastoral qualities of the first third of the novel, an homage in many ways to Ray Bradbury, explode with controlled and horrific fury—none of the covers evoke the resulting gloom (there is light in the madness).

My biggest frustration with the novel might be the result of the lack of complete final revisions due to Reamy’s death. There are a few moments where the sheer effects of some of violence does not seem to register with the young women, particularly Rose after Francine’s shocking death, in a believable way. However, I was caught up in it all and did not want to leave Reamy’s world. The gruesome spectacle of the old Little Mermaid who boils in her tank, and Medusa, who dies “without uttering a sound” (117) with her snakes bitting her face, and the tender of love of Evelyn for Angel, the Magic Boy who cannot speak, will stay with me for a long while.

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lost Classic April 27 2009
By DevoGirl - Published on
Format: Paperback
This novel was first published in 1978, shortly after the sudden death of the author at age 42. It's his only novel, although his SF/Fantasy short stories had also gained him some attention.
Haverstock's Traveling Curiosus and Tent Show arrives in a small Depression-era town in Kansas. The people are amused at what seem to be extraordinary, supernatural beings, but because they are mixed in with obvious fakes, most people shrug the whole thing off as a trick. But the circus really does contain supernatural beings, who are enslaved by the villainous Haverstock. The book follows three local girls whose fascination with the circus leads to sexual awakening fraught with danger. Rose falls for one of the roustabouts, Francine for the monstrous Minotaur, and Evelyn for Angel, a mute albino boy with powers to control the elements. The story is thrilling and evocative, but it's the love story between Evelyn and Angel that I liked the best. It's sweet, tender, and heartbreaking. I have reread this book many times and it always holds up.
But I have to wonder at the really ugly "American primitive" cover art I see pictured here. It has nothing to do with the story or any of the characters, and is really off-putting. The Andrew Wyeth-inspired cover of earlier editions captures the feel of the novel much better.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blind Voices: Excellent Novel about the Fantastic March 21 2005
By C. Baker - Published on
Format: Hardcover
When Haverstock's Traveling Curious and Wonder Show rolls into the small town of Hawley, Kansas the townspeople begin to stir. The magic and allure of seeing Tiny Tim, a mermaid, medusa, a Cyclops, a snake woman, and most of all, the Angel Boy, brings them all out to see the show. Are these unnatural creatures real or is it sleight of hand? Exactly how do they do that?

When Evelyn Bradley, a small town girl, runs into the show's strange but alluring Angel Boy, things begin to seem out of kilter and not quite real. There is both more and less than meets the eye with the odd collection of creatures surrounding the show. And strange things begin happening around town during the show's stay. As Evelyn delves into the mystery of the Angel Boy, things begin to get stranger and more dangerous, not just for Evelyn, but the whole town.

In Blind Voices, Reamy has written a novel that reminds me a lot of some of Ray Bradbury's best works like The Illustrated Man. The attraction of the traveling circus and freak show and the magic, wonder, and latent fear that surrounds them comes to life in this novel. Reamy does and excellent job of setting the novel in rural Kansas in 1920's, which you learn from the language and plot without it being mentioned. The story unfolds at a pace that leaves you wondering where he's going next until you find out the secrets behind the secrets. And once the story takes off, its becomes both a seat of your pants thriller and a tender love story at the same time. This is an excellent work of fiction.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary novel Nov. 24 2001
By Michael Scott - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It's a shame that _Blind Voices_ was Tom Reamy's only novel. This novel is so extraordinary that it makes one wonder what Reamy would have been able to do if he had lived. First novels are typically choppy, but this one is anything but. _Blind Voices_ is a seamless tale of a small Midwestern town and the madman who comes and destroys their idyllic life.
The townsfolk are excited when a traveling wonder show comes to town. Everyone wants to see the Minotaur, the tiny man, Medusa, the Invisible Man, and the rest of the amazing attractions. One by one, the young townspeople are seduced by different aspects of the carnival. And the reader gradually learns that the charming master of the carnival is anything but.
This is a marvelous story of magic and human feelings. Reamy does a wonderful job of conveying the depth of emotions experienced by the townspeople as the world as they know it comes to an end. We feel pity for the Carnival leader's monstrous creations as they struggle with their humanity. Simply put, this is a wonderful novel and one that I highly recommend.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blind Voices reviewed March 23 2002
By Jim Gause - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The only novel by this fantastic talent seized my imagination when I was about fifteen and transported me to a universe I really had forgotten about. When I was very young I had lived on a farm in the deep south, at ten we moved to New York and betrayed our country selves to the ultra hip cosmoplitan world of Long Island and the city. Then this bucolic fantasy with its sharp characters and clear, precise imagery came off the library shelf and drew me in to the pastoral world of Kansas in the 1920s. It hummed with the sounds and smells of Summer forgotten too easily by a country boy cum city lad.
The drama builds at just the right intensity, the paranormal feats are so easily integrated it will make you believe a boy can fly. In short,this novel wins my personal award for best science fiction novel ever, and I am a die hard sci fi fan. Nothing would make me giddier, I think than to see this story as a film...

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