Adam Cesare’s Clown in a Cornfield is a book that swept the reading horror community, and for good reason. It’s a surprisingly gritty, intense experience that slickly includes sharp generational commentary. Let me tell you more about my experience with the town of Kettle Springs and its sinister mascot: Frendo the Clown.
What is it About?
Written by Adam Cesare and published in 2020, Clown in a Cornfield is a slasher novel. In it, Quinn Maybrook just wants to make it until graduation. She might not, however, make it to morning.
Quinn and her father moved to tiny, boring Kettle Springs to find a fresh start. But, ever since the Baypen Corn Syrup Factory shut down, Kettle Springs has cracked in half. On one side are the adults – who are desperate to make Kettle Springs great again. On the other side are the kids who just want to have fun, make prank videos, and get out of Kettle Springs as quick as they can.
Kettle Springs is caught in a battle between old and new, tradition and progress. It’s a fight that looks like it will destroy the town. Until Frendo, the Baypen mascot, a creepy clown in a pork-pie hat, goes homicidal and decides that the only way for Kettle Springs to grow back is to cull the rotten crop of kids who live there now.
In less capable hands, it’s easy for the teen characters to fall into stereotypes. Lucky for this reader, Mr. Cesare’s hands are more than capable. His characters feel authentic and outgrow the archetypes they’re initially introduced in. He does so in such a way that’s pleasing to the eyes as it’s detailed writing without the purple prose. I love Quinn. I love Cole. I love Rust. I even love Janet! I wanted them to get through the ordeals that they go through.
I’m not much for labels so I was surprised to find that Clown in a Cornfield is categorized as Young Adult. Make no mistake, this is a slasher book and after the necessary buildup, it makes this very well-known. Kills come fast and merciless, subverting some of my expectations of who lives and who dies. Mind you, this happens early on, giving the reader a sense that all bets are off and anyone can die. I was caught in a dilemma where the story was so intriguing, I wanted to see what happened next but the intensity was on such a high level that my fingers got numb and I had to take breaks.
Character development and violence aside, another element worth praise is the social commentary that the author makes. It fits so well with the story and is such a key element to the story. Some horror fans are upset when social commentary precedes a good horror yarn but my horror-loving, bleeding heart was happy that the commentary and the scares work hand in hand. The way that the book takes a basic slasher premise and spins it into something unique is a testament to the author’s knowledge in making us afraid, as the great Clive Barker also observes on his complimentary blurb.
What Did Not Work?
Honestly, I can’t think of any negatives for this one. I dug most of the elements of this book. However, if you’re the type of horror reader that suffers from clown fatigue, thanks to the likes of Stephen King’s It, or the hijinks of Art the Clown from the movie Terrifier, you may want to sit this one out until you’re in the right mood. Folks of a certain persuasion, who don’t want even a hint of satire or social commentary in their horror reads, may also be turned off.
Where Can I Find It?
Clown in a Cornfield has been out on Amazon. I recommend the sexy hardcover that’s all sorts of red.
The story of Clown in a Cornfield moves at a white-knuckle pace. It’s ripe with social commentary about clashing generations, never once feeling forced. All themes are organic to the plot as the charming and likeable cast. While it is marketed as a young adult horror book, the novel has blood and guts to spare for the insatiable slasher fan such as myself.
Dustin is a horror fan and sometimes short story writer who hails from the Philippines. He likes a lot of the horror genre but usually goes for slashers and arthouse/slowburn stuff. Currently, he’s trying to make up for lost time in the horror literature world by digesting as many horror books as he can.