Pros: An interesting glimpse into the carnie world.
Cons: Stereotypical characters and graphic violence.
There are some novels that I enjoy reading, even though I recognize them to be fairly "junky". By that I mean, they're not the most intelligent stories, they don't have the most well-defined characters, there's hardly anything in them worth recommending. Yet, I enjoyed the story. Such is the case with Dean Koontz's The Funhouse. There is absolutely nothing intelligent about this story, nothing at all to be gained by reading it. Yet, I found myself flipping those pages pretty quickly to see how it would all play out. Yup, this is a junk novel for sure, but a fun one.
Ellen had a miserable childhood, with an over-bearing mother who shoved her religious views down Ellen's throat until Ellen escaped at a young age to marry Conrad, a carnival owner. Thinking life with the "carnie" would be exciting and adventurous, Ellen's dreams are shattered when her husband turns out to be a foul-tempered, violent man. Then along comes the baby. A horribly deformed baby whom Ellen starts to believe is evil.
In a fit of irrational violence, Ellen kills the baby. When her husband finds out, he is furious. He kicks her out of his life with one threat: if she should ever have children in the future, he will hunt them down, and do to them what Ellen has done to their baby.
Skip ahead 25 years. Ellen has remarried and has two beautiful children. And the carnival is coming to town...
The rest of the book alternates points of view between Ellen's family, and Conrad. We see what has become of Ellen as she tries to live with the guilt of her past. She tries to drown her memories in a bottle of vodka. When she's not so drunk that she can't move, she's in church praying for her soul. Her husband is afraid of her, as are her children. It seems Ellen didn't turn out so different from her over-bearing mother as she thought she would.
Daughter Amy is your typical teenager - well the typical bad teenager, anyway. She drinks, does drugs, has unprotected sex, gets pregnant, you know all the stuff we fear in our teenagers.
What about Dad? He's never around - always working - way too busy to notice what's really happening in his household.
Son Joey is the least problematic family member, but I really didn't like him, either. He's bratty, mischievous, and downright annoying. Of course, with a family like his, it's hard to blame him. Still, he's not the least bit likable
I really hated how all of these characters were written. Every one of them should have been wearing a pin saying "Stereotype". There's nothing about any of them that would make you like them, or care about them in the least. From what I can tell, Amy is incapable of making a single smart decision. She follows along with whatever her friends and her boyfriends want from her. As we're privy to her thoughts, we know that she knows right from wrong. But she's simply incapable of choosing for herself, what she wants in life. As a result, she screws up her life time and time again.
Dad is incapable of seeing what's right in front of his nose. His wife's a mess, his daughter's in constant trouble, and he doesn't appear to notice. Not once is he shown trying to help either of the women in his life.
Then we have the other half of the story, told from Conrad's point of view. I thought these chapters were the more enjoyable ones. Not that he's at all likable, either. But at least as the evil antagonist, he's fun to read about. He's spent the past 25 years dreaming of the day when he gets to exact his revenge. He has the whole thing planned out, all he has to do is find Ellen's kids. His method of trying to find them is interesting, to say the least. And while I wouldn't call it realistic, it did make for a fun read.
Along the way, we meet some of his carnie co-workers. They, too, are an interesting lot. Especially Gunther who has a penchant for brutalizing young women. His violent scenes are graphic, to say the least. It's especially nerve-wracking to read the lengths to which Conrad will go, in order to protect Gunther.
We also get a glimpse into the life of a carnie worker. The constant travel, the process of tearing down and packing up and moving along every few days. And the special bond that seems to exist within the carnie community, and how they stick together no matter what, like a real family. And it's made very clear that within the carnie world, your outside flaws don't matter. You are treated with respect no matter what you look like, something definitely not seen in the "outside" world.
Like I said, the scenes within the carnie world were enjoyable, despite the evil we know is lurking in Conrad's every action.
I definitely turned the pages quickly, wanting to know what would happen. But the ending was a disappointment. It was poorly written, leaving several loose ends, and was basically a letdown after such a big buildup.
Overall, while I enjoyed this book, I wouldn't recommend it. It lacks any real substance and any depth of character. Furthermore, it has an abrupt, disappointing ending. Full of fairly graphic violence, this is definitely not a book for most people.
Also by Dean Koontz: