Shoot the Freak
Tomkins’s speaker feigns a highfalutin’ voice whilst bumping shoulders among old New York’s most ratty carnival barkers. What results is a constant, creeping snap-shot of what he would call ‘low’ New York, in all its freakshow (sometimes literally) glory. This short story is short and deliberative, with the bulk of action taking place behind the narrator’s eyes.
An illuminating example: chapter four does not detail a girl in bikini, but rather, details the speaker’s seeing of a girlin-bikini: “Now I’m standing in line for a hot dog. There’s a girl in front of me in a bikini. She’s way too dewy for the likes of me but then illicit thrills are half of what Coney Island is all about and as I try not to stare at the fine down running south from the nape of her neck I feel something like love welling deep inside me”. Tompkins’s use of the present participle, paired with sentences that seem to hopskip before running off by themselves, places the speaker squarely between the
reader and the scene, shifting the focus from ‘reality’ to ‘appearance’.
The story culminates in a reveal of The Freak’s identity, he being the masked man hired to dodge paintballs and taunt the customers who fire them. The scene reads: “Either with relief or disappointment we note that the science-fiction refugee who held us all mesmerized a minute ago is a white kid who looks as if he can’t be more than eighteen years old. … with impressive nonchalance he pulls a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from one pocket of his overalls and lights up, studiously ignoring us as we ponder this latest illustration of the gulf between appearance and reality”. A little on the nose? Maybe. But “Shoot the Freak” is well-written and even better-considered. (Joel W. Vaughan)