Freak Story is a unique novel in so many ways. The plot line, the characters and the stream-of-consciousness point of view combine to make Freak Story a pleasurable and fascinating read. Freak Story is a narrative of the life of Buddy Hartman who was adopted by a woman who wanted a child to please her husband. After her husband leaves Buddy’s new mother turns to prostitution and drugs to support herself and ease the pain of her new life. After struggling with, and overcoming, his own drug addiction Buddy decides to seek out his biological mother and discover his genetic identity. What happens next is perfectly messy and flawed and freakish as Buddy discovers his mother is one-half of the famous Hilton Twins who are actually Siamese Twins and former Vaudeville performers! Buddy then embarks on a mission to restore their entertainment careers and sort out his own true identity.
This book won’t appeal to a mass audience in quite the same way that Musgrave’s O’Malley mysteries do but when the right reader connects with Freak Story it will be poetic and freakishly beautiful. I was definitely the right audience for this book. The characters, the “freaks” if you will, were absolutely delightful! They were lovable, charming and easily stole the show. There were times I actually wished that the book was centered around Daisy and Violet (the Hilton Twins) instead of around Buddy. I could easily sit and read an entire novel based around their Vaudeville performing days. They were optimistic, cheerful and passionate about life; they were a direct contrast to Buddy’s adoptive mother who collapsed into sorrow and despair when faced with challenges of her own. This strong character contrast of Buddy’s two mothers provided great insight into human behavior. The women in Buddy’s life were well-written and really show Musgrave’s talent for developing his characters. As for Buddy himself, he has his own attributes that make him a “freak” of his time but how much do I tell without spoiling the book? It’s enough to say that the book is set in the late 1960’s when society as a whole isn’t very accepting of anyone who is different than the norm. There is a lot of racism, prejudice and intolerance, the Civil Rights movement is ongoing and Buddy doesn’t really belong to any accepted group. He’s a societal misfit and it’s easy to relate to him; most people will admit to feeling like an outcast or a “freak” at some point.
One minor criticism with Freak Story is the strong shift in writing style during dialogue. I never noticed such a shift when reading Musgrave’s mystery, Disappearance at Mount Sinai and I can only assume it’s due to the different time period and POV. Disappearance at Mount Sinai is set in the late 1800’s in post-Civil War era America involving racist but “normal” people whereas Freak Story is set in 1960’s Civil Rights era America during involving “freaks” and a judgmental society. The descriptive narrative of Freak Story was poetic and beautifully written but the same eloquence wasn’t captured in the dialogue. At times the dialogue felt cold despite the surrounding script being captivating. It was an odd shift but then again, this was an odd book. It’s easy to overlook the flawed dialogue and it may not even be something that the majority of readers notice.
It is impossible to compare Freak Story 1967-1969 to any other book I’ve ever read because it is such an unique and interesting tale. The best I can do is compare it to the 2003 Tim Burton film “Big Fish” starring Ewan McGregor. In both situations a son is trying to understand his parents, his lineage and himself by exploring a family history that consists of people and circumstances that challenge convention. Personally, I loved Freak Story 1967-1969 and would recommend giving it a chance. Even if it doesn’t sound like something you would normally read I think you will find yourself in love.
Review by Ashley LaMarClosed the Cover