Book Review — Funhouse

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Funhouse by Robert Vaughan is a categorized collection of short fiction and poetry. Vaughan is the author of five poetry, fiction, and cross-genre writing books. His writing has appeared in over 500 print and online journals, and over ten anthologies including The Best Small Fictions 2106. He leads writing roundtables at Red Oak Writing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And, he teaches workshops at locations like Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, NM, The Clearing in Door County, Wisconsin and Synergia Ranch outside of Santa Fe, NM.

I first came across Vaughan’s work in 2014 when I was writing reviews for Author Alliance. I also reviewed his joint work with Kathy Fish, titled Rift, in 2015. This collection uses the carnival to group his writings. Funhouse, like much of his writing, presents something on a happy, fun setting but, has something a little darker lurking under the surface. The reader may not always see it, but he or she will feel it hiding on the next page.

Vaughan has also mastered the role of the narrator. Usually, the reader can hear the voice of a narrator, male, female, masculine, feminine, strong or weak. Funhouse reads like it was written by a dozen different writers. The reader is left guessing the narrator’s gender. It is not that it matters so much in life but, that the reader is caught in a game guessing and wondering when no description is given. It presents a nice twist and lets the reader take the hook. In 2014, I wrote this about Vaughan’s poetry collection Addicts and Basements:

The writer, however, is an artist not a gender, or as Patti Smith put it: When I’m writing a poem or drawing, I am not female; I’m an artist. Perhaps, it is one step further than that as Smith also says: “All gender is a drag.”

Vaughan, in his writing, is a true artist.

The section, “Balloon Darts”, starts with youthful stories, but with a hint of darkness and a bit of an uncomfortable feeling that is later confirmed in “The Day My Life Changed.” There is a slight touch of Something Wicked This Way Comes in the writing with the cover of the book giving that first hint. The second section, “The House of Mirrors”, present twenty-six character sketches of children, or childlike characters, with each name starting with a different letter, A through Z. These short descriptions show more of the inside than the visible outside of the person. Bob Schofield presents a supporting illustration for each.

“Tunnel of Love” departs into poetry. Thirty-six poems, line art, and even a flowchart connect different female singers. A singer, year of birth, and a lyric set off a stylized poem or word experiment. I was happy to see Patti Smith and Rickie Lee Jones included in the collection and the range of women singers cover decades. The final section, “Ferris Wheel”, is a collection of longer fictions. I was “Don Ho’s Ho” is delightful. The play on words and yes, a man’s addiction to Ho-Hos make this an entertaining story. “Jesus Votives” perhaps ties much of the author’s work together. This is the story that lacks a dark underside and expands the fluidity of the author’s writing. It is the top shelf prize on the midway.

Funhouse is a collection I devoured.  Vaughan’s style is unique and his role as a narrator transcends the usual singular voice.  The reading is enjoyable and the reader is challenged to discover the voice telling the story.  The short fictions are also complete stories and the reader never gets the feeling of jumping into the middle of a story and being pulled out before its end.  A nicely crafted collection of precisely written literature which will lead the way in popularizing short fiction.

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