Clown in a Cornfield: A Review by Jesse Bair

Title: Clown in a Cornfield

Author: Adam Cesare

Publisher: Harper Teen

Published: August 2020

As is characteristic of gothic tales, Adam Cesare’s novel weaves a story that confronts its readers with what many wish to avoid. A reality all too real for educators today as information has become politicized and even the mentioning of systemic injustices have become taboo across the United States. Rural teachers may even experience such opposition at a more familiar level because the very setting of their employment harbors a community wherein everyone knows everyone. What I, a rural educator myself, hope to provide fellow teachers and interested readers is a showcase of what reassurance Clown in a Cornfield (2020) provides. Specifically, Cesare’s text validates the fear we and some of our students may have about people becoming sick with a yearned detachment from reality. While I recommend this book, I encourage teachers to read it before recommending it. Not all students enjoy the horror genre. Teachers know their students and will be able to make informed recommendations after reading the text. 

Especially for those who have or currently live in farming towns, the fictional Kettle Springs, Missouri, may be familiar for comforting and depressing reasons. On one hand, audiences are treated to a close-knit community of youth who throw parties at the nearby body of water, and a sheriff who is known and respected by all as he makes his routine trip to the local café. Familiar pleasantries sadly turn sour as one reads of a boarded up main street and industry collecting rust rather than profit. Such commonplace ruin of the small-town ideal is also hit by tragedy as a local youth dies in an accident; a reality not exclusive to the rural, but is instead made all the more heartbreaking in a town where everyone knows everyone. Such is the circumstances surrounding Kettle Springs before massacre erupts, a place whose townsfolk are  heartbroken from the death of Victoria Hill and the economic fallout that follows.

Death is central to Clown in a Cornfield, and the betrayal that motivates the slaughter may resonate with rural educators and students. Cesare’s text resembles popular slashers like Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre in terms of their remote settings and the bloody barbarity committed by masked assailants; however, the clowns in the cornfield disrupt any sense of communal safety to the bone. Without spoiling the ending, know that the clowns are far more personal to the townsfolk than the bloodlust of a singular disturbed individual wearing just any mask. The killers wear the face of the town’s former economic mainstay, the Baypen Corn Syrup Factory. Namely, they wear the face of its mascot, Frendo the Clown. The once friendly face whose likeness inspired festivals and whose employer brought prosperity to the locals, has now become actively bitter. Frendo, who once spoke jokes that inspired laughter from children, now spits out the blood that splatters in its face. Furthermore, the betrayal in this matter comes from the beings inside the mask — faces more familiar than the outside threats many rural communities may assume.

Such threats offer readers an opportunity to witness contemporary politics play out in gruesome fashion. For teachers, behind the picturesque expectation of townsfolk who support their own, they may feel as if they aren’t free to challenge the approved ideology. Kettle Springs, like many rural resource extraction communities have seen better days, and the perpetrators in this narrative intend to usher in those times again on a carpet soaked in the blood of whoever is deemed a threat to that revitalization. As educators enter this nightmare with fresh eyes, some may discover that those who accuse their profession of indoctrination are more a scared person than a monster. In other words, while teachers (both rural and otherwise) may feel solace in having their opposition portrayed as the monsters they may seem at times, I invite such readers to listen and connect to what they share with such antagonists. Notably, the heartbreak and concern both share over losses they experience in their hometown and their youth. 

I obviously recommend this book, but I do so with the caveat that readers be able and willing to embrace the fear that is as a part of life as the joy we yearn for. Not only can acceptance of such fear and also witnessing it in fictional stories offer an opportunity to feel represented and gain hope for a better tomorrow, but such narratives give audiences a chance to empathize with the opposition as well. I encourage those new or familiar with this story to read it to better understand both Frendo and perhaps those who are presently fearful of new ideologies in their schools and homes.

Jesse Bair is the current English Teacher at Froid Public Schools in Froid, Montana. A community of roughly 196 people, who now has Mr. Bair cheering for their youth loudly and proudly during their academic ventures and athletic contests. Beyond school grounds, he is continuing his passion as an independent researcher; one whose publication history begins with a blog post for the journal Gothic Nature and an upcoming publication on unrealistic Midwestern fiction for MidAmerica. He received his Master’s in Children’s and Young Adult Literature at Central Michigan University, and his Bachelor’s in English Education at Montana State University. Additional academic accomplishments include interning with the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society, and Social Change to produce educational materials — and a short stint as a Student Representative on the Online Writing Association’s Executive Board.

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