Synopses & Reviews
The guys who were supposed to be my crew, my pals, my posse, had left me for dead, after I had gone above and beyond for them, after I had sussed out the perfect score, after I had done my homework, after I had overcome their stupidity, after I had sacrificed my near-virginity by having sex with the limbless lady.
When he wakes up naked by the side of the highway in the middle of the desert, twenty-two-year-old Bailey Quinn is only sure of a few things: He's in a world of testicle pain. He's tripping out of his head on peyote. And someone seems to have made a half-assed attempt at slashing his throat. He can't for the life of him remember what happened. And then it all comes back: His boys screwed him over.
Bailey, college dropout and carny, was working props and rigging for a touring tent circus and freak show. The Freaks were the nastiest, most tweaked-out group of misfits Bailey had ever come across. But the Freaks were doing some shady bookkeeping in addition to a boatload of veterinary Quaalude and crystal meth. So to get the inside dope on the circus payroll, Bailey took up with Eelie, the Serpent Girl, and began an unexpectedly erotic and dangerous odyssey.
As Bailey hits the road to track down his "friends" and get his loot back, a black-edged, hilarious caper unfolds. From Tank Deerflower, the drug-dealing rodeo rider, and Arnold, the fire-eater with a temper as black as his charred throat, to Sissy, the beautiful ex-junkie/whore who steals Bailey's heart, strange characters and stranger events converge in this fast, gritty, and unforgettable novel. Crafted with artistry and deftness, Serpent Girl is a voyage into the darkest depths of carny life and, remarkably, a tender love story to boot.
"Filmmaker and playwright Carnahan's gleefully deranged tale of drugs, deception and bad decisions feels like something Hunter S. Thompson might have written if he'd taken a course in narrative economy. Bailey Quinn, a 22-year-old college dropout, wakes up in the Columbia River Basin high on peyote and sans pants. A scabbed slash across his neck reminds him that his buddies threw him over after they robbed the payroll at Bailey's place of employment, Circus Maximus, a poor man's Ringling Brothers ruthlessly run by its freak show performers. Bailey sets out to find his duplicitous crew and recover his money so that he can once and for all give up 'copping free' a way of life that revolved around robbing insured businesses. What stands in his way are the circuses' Freaks ('the nastiest, most tweaked-out group... I had ever come across'), led by the titular flipper-armed Serpent Girl, whom Bailey had seduced in order to ferret out information for the heist. Several tender scenes between Bailey and the Serpent Girl prove first-timer Carnahan's talent for odd yet poignant juxtapositions, and throughout the novel, he renders both his characters and the geography of the American West in vibrant high style (a heavily tattooed gangster looks as if he'd 'rolled in a pile of wet comic books'). Will lovable screwup Bailey finally turn a corner with the help of ex-smackhead and prostitute Sissy? The bang-up ending is pretty happy, and cinematic enough for the silver screen. Agent, David McCormick. (Mar. 8) Forecast: Carnahan's Hollywood connections (he's in the business, and he's Helen Hunt's partner) net him a blurb from Mike Myers, whose name may draw in those more likely to rent DVDs than buy books, while praise from Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard should attract the rest." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"First-novelist Carnahan is a stylist who upgrades pulp to the Turkish-coffee richness of Cain, Hammett, and Chandler." Kirkus Reviews
"Carnahan can write. He mixes real freaks with freaky West Coast dopers, gets them talking, threatening each other and it works. I didn't notice any wasted words." Elmore Leonard
"Smart, sexy, and laugh-out-loud funny. It's the coolest book I've read in years, and in my Top Five of All Time." Mike Myers
"It starts with the best opening line in modern American literature and just gets better and by 'better' I mean more depraved and more fun from there. If you've ever wondered what the hell and by 'hell' I mean hell goes on with a traveling circus when the tents fold and the sawdust is swept up, my babies, this is the show for you." John Ridley, author of The Drift and Those Who Walk in Darkness
"Only Matthew Carnahan's own prose can do him justice he's 'as clear as a bell in a Buddhist temple,' he's a 'vigilant, righteous, in-your-face' writer, his lines are as 'ripe and perfectly juicy as Xana's bruised-mango breasts.' Oh, never mind just read the first sentence and hold on to your balls (as if they were 'dangerous little animals that might escape') and you're off!" Richard Dooling, author of Brain Storm and White Man's Grave
When he was kicked out of college, Bailey Quinn never meant to wind up in the circus, scooping elephant scat and rigging the high wire. He also never meant to incur the wrath of a luciferian crystal-meth-cooking biker gang, run for his life from the vengeful freaks at the circus after scamming them out of a lot of money, or fall for a sexy ex-hooker in A.A. who just might be the answer to a question he didn't know he needed to ask. From a bad peyote trip in the desert to a bad hitch on the way to L.A. and on to Venice Beach, Bailey Quinn has somehow got to survive the terrible choices he makes while the reader cringes around Bailey's every thoughtless turn. Sex with the Serpent Girl will satisfy anyone looking for a cathartic, dirty plunge into excess. Here you can screw up, get twisted, come clean, and be loved all before you can catch your breath.
About the Author
Matthew Carnahan has had seventy-seven jobs, from deckhand to circus worker. He studied at New York University and the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. After working as a playwright and director in New York, Carnahan received the Chesterfield Writer's Film Project fellowship from Steven Spielberg. His feature directorial debut, Black Circle Boys, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, as did his film Mailman. He also directed Rudyland, the award-winning documentary about former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Carnahan is currently working on a new novel. He lives in Southern California and New York City with his girlfriend, Helen; son, Emmett; and daughter, Måkena lei.