Reality TV is a monster


Yes, the new novel by Samantha Allen Patricia wants to cuddle is a lesbian sasquatch horror comedy Bachelor parody. Plus the ultimate slasher girl vibes. Plus a whole magnificent epistolary suplot of lesbian romance. Plus, the descriptions of the night sky and landscape of the Pacific Northwest so charming yet haunting, you’ll be torn about wanting a closer look and wanting to look away, which is appropriate, because it’s exactly how I feel when I watch the best episodes of reality TV. It is, quite simply, a delightfully weird and wonderful book, taking several lofty concepts and smashing them together, to ultimately tell a story about desire, the things we want and what we are willing to do and sacrifice for. get them.

It all starts with a bloodbath:

Margaret Davies rubs and rubs but she knows she will only have to refinish the deck.

At least the place where she found the dead sheep this morning. Not that she could recognize the animal at first. The poor dear had been bludgeoned and torn to shreds, hopefully in that order.

The macabre prologue alludes to what is to come in this tale: torn limbs, bludgeoned bodies, ripped jaws, ceremonially removed heads. Otters Island, the fictional island in the Pacific Northwest where the novel takes place, is a place of horrors – horrors that begin as a whisper, gradually turning into a scream.

But for the first two parts of the novel – split into three parts, alternating between five perspectives and making a formal game along the way – Allen almost lets you forget you could be reading a bloody freak book and moves on to another form of horror. : reality TV and its making.

Four of the five prospects are candidates on The catcha turn on The single person, an American media sensation so exaggerated and already deranged that Allen plays it pretty close to the bone and still achieves heightened effect. They all fight for the attention of Jeremy, who made his fortune making and then selling Glamstapix, the novel’s replacement for Instagram. There’s Amanda, the straight daughter of dyke mothers appalled by her decision to become, in the words of real-life icon Sonja Morgan, an international lifestyle brand (she sells overpriced garbage on Glamstapix ). There’s feisty and confident and hot Vanessa, who enjoys tormenting third contestant Lilah-Mae, resident Christian Good Girl who sees The catch as an opportunity to literally prosthelyze.

And then there is Renee. Renee doesn’t really want to be here. A confluence of circumstances – or non-circumstances, really – brought her here. Her life has become monotonous, and she feels adrift, and The catch becomes the dysfunctional life raft she seeks. She’s a blatant sign, and she knows it. No black woman has ever reached the last four of The catch not to mention the first two weeks, and the producers and Jeremy all treat her like a pawn. She becomes less and less willing to play their game, her ambivalence towards life as a pressure cooker. For much of the book, Renee is just about to finally find out who she is and what she wants, her disdain for her competitors complicated by the fact that she would also very much like to date Amanda. When Renee finally steps off the cliff edge of her self-realization, it’s to join a community of equally drifting and misfit women brought together by an ancient beast.

But you’ll have to read the book to really understand what I mean by that.

In addition to the four competitors, there is also Casey, a producer on The catch whose life revolves around his work. She spends her days sparring with contestants and the show‘s aging Botox-laden host, Dex Derickson. Sometimes she hooks up with hunky cameraman Mike, who Casey tells us is just plain dumb and hot, but who probably has more under the surface if Casey were to actually know him. For Casey, there is only The catch. She loves her job, sincerely. As she climbs into the production van with the contestants around Otters Island, a cacophony of laughter and vocal fries fills the car, but for Casey: “The sound is almost soothing, like crickets chirping at the exterior of a screened porch on a late summer night.

Casey is the kind of person who immediately starts producing in her head when she finds a corpse on the road, just like one of the contestants is the kind of person who immediately starts imagining what an episode about her death might look like. after his abduction. and dragged into a cave. There’s a literal monster in Patricia wants to cuddlebut the real monster is The catch and the thirst for glory that she woos. Casey has an outsized sense of her power and influence, and the ending tests her supposedly pristine skill at manipulation – and she fails.

As the suspense builds, Allen never lets us stray too far from this violent opening, working small bursts of the grotesque and macabre into these opening sections of the book. Take, for example, the shiny setup and pay for this moment from an Amanda chapter. Amanda wakes up in the middle of the night to sneak into Vanessa’s room:

“No,” comes the answer through the door. Amanda pushes it open, to find her friend sitting in front of the antique dressing table tearing her face off, her fingers scraping all the way down her cheek in one long continuous motion, a thin translucent membrane stuck in her fingernails. .

So what:

But once V is done removing his detox mask, his flawless olive skin shows.

To make a face mask so scary!!! language and imagery in Patricia wants to cuddle surprises and unsettles throughout – in the best way.

Every point of view is told in a third person so close that you really get inside each character’s head. If there’s one that leaves a bit to be desired, it’s Vanessa (whose full name, by the way, is Vanessa Voorhees, which I absolutely read as a reference to Jason, especially since the third part of the novel really has a Friday 13 vibe). But overall, character development in Patricia wants to cuddle works to suture real stakes to thriller twists and cultural commentary on media consumption, social media fame, and the flattening of one’s life in a reality TV arc.

Interstitials between the alternate viewpoints also run through each of the three parts of the novel. In the first part, these interstitials are excerpts from a The catch fan forum that provides insight into the viewer culture and traditions surrounding the show, threaded with humor (usernames like CatchTheseHands and CatcherInTheSky abound, but my favorite has to be the very simple DexIsMyZaddy). In the second part, these interstitials turn into true parody of crime. These are blog posts from a woman whose sister went missing in the woods of Otters Island several years ago along with a few other women. Otters Island was once a haven for the gay community, but the cold case of missing hikers caused its demise, with tourism in steady decline ever since (hence The catch score a bargain to film here). The mystery of the novel thickens.

The best interstitials come in the third part. They are love letters between two young queer girls living in Little Rock, passing secret notes to each other and dreaming of a life beyond their homophobic community. We only ever get one side of these exchanges, and yet we learn so much about the two girls and their relationship in such a small space. The third part is when the book goes into full horror mode (once you get to that part you won’t want to stop), and the fact that all the bloody action is interrupted by these truly gorgeous and intimate portraits of young queer love works amazingly well. In general, Allen is a maestro who puts seemingly incongruous things together into something singular, strange, spectacular.

The way Allen describes the actual physical movements behind the making of reality TV, for example, is often inspired by the night sky. There is a game between literal reality and “reality” as constructed by the show.

The cameras close in, drawn into the drama like planets drifting toward a collapsing star.

And, in a later passage:

The stars shine above them by the thousands, an otherworldly reminder to viewers that it was all ostensibly for, except unlike Nielsen’s sets, the lights in the sky are silent and permanent, completely oblivious to debate. below.

As strange and surprising as it is, Patricia wants to cuddle is not an eccentric on an island apart. The book fits easily into conversation with two other books that I recently reviewed here. It maps reality TV and its fabrication onto horror, much like How to be eatenwho maps a Bachelorstyle TV show about a twisted fairy tale and similarly features a scathing critique of the medium while acknowledging exactly why people love it. And as with Our women under the sea, there’s a subversion of the queer freak narrative here — not to mention a wonderfully constructed queer romance with pain at its core. In fact, the Gay Ocean Horror book and the Lesbian Sasquatch Horror book pack a pretty solid punch if you want to spend a weekend with the work of Julia Armfield and Samantha Allen. They are very different tonally and structurally, but they share enough threads in common to make a cohesive creature double.

Even though the novel throws many genres and forms into a blender, everything is mashed to a smooth finish. There are meaningful connections between all the characters and their motivations, even the most vapid of them. Young queer girls from Little Rock flee to Otters Island in search of something new. Renée throws herself into The catch by, essentially, existential boredom but ends up ending up. Lilah-Mae, Amanda and Vanessa, well, they all want platforms, what they perceive as power and control. And everyone goes completely wild with these wants and desires.

Allen’s knack for taking incongruous elements and turning them into a magnificent monster produces delightful humor and horror throughout. The book got me to lesbian sasquatch, and then it took me on an even crazier ride than I could have ever predicted. All the best monsters live on reality TV, and this novel knows it well.

Patricia Wants To Cuddle by Samantha Allen is out now.

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