After deciding at the last minute that I should review a book for Halloween, I hurriedly set about finding a relatively brief horror story. After a cursory glance, Popsicle, a horror story about a man discovering he’s in the process of eating another man’s head, fit the bill. But, as I read this book, it became apparent that horror is only one of the genres Popsicle fits into, and head-eating aside, it’s a relatively minor one. Of stronger focus of the tale are its science fiction and cyberpunk aspects, and its humour. While I’d hoped Christa Wojciechowski’s novella would be darkly humorous, it exceeded every expectation I had. Popsicle is not the straight horror I was expecting; instead, it is so much more.
When reviewing books, I tend to leave author quotes to the cover—a piece of marketing designed to sell the book—I need to pay respect to Richard Thomas’ quote, which compares Wojciechowski’s writing to, among others, Chuck Palahniuk. From the outset, the author’s writing reminded me of Palahniuk, and in the best way possible, from the characters to the absurdist situations that feel entirely believable within the book’s world, through to the prose that explores the characters, situations and world in horrifyingly vivid detail.
At just 98 pages in paperback (or an estimated 94 swipes on your Kindle), Popsicle is a novella and a brief read. The author makes wonderful use of the limited space, packing in the horror elements, mystery, science fiction and cyberpunk trappings, mixed in with a great plot, brilliant characters and thematic resonance about social media addiction and love. Wojciechowski has packed a lot into the space, moving along quickly without any of it feeling rushed; in fact, its length suits the story perfectly, without it ever overstaying its welcome.
Given its lean size, it is entirely possible to read Popsicle in one sitting, as long as you can set aside the time for it. And dare I say it, reading the book in a single sitting is the optimal way of enjoying the author’s tale, and it is exactly how I spent my time with it. Wojciechowski’s story isn’t broken into chapters, and without those, the book is sparse on natural breaking points. While there are scene breaks interspersed throughout the novella, these are predominantly utilised to break up the story between the current events and those set earlier. Instead of overwhelming the reader, the lack of breaks helps the fluidity of its story.
The back and forth between the timelines works well as the story’s device. As it tells the story of its protagonist, Andre, who has been implanted with a technological device, it opens with him realising that he has been eating a stranger’s head. Confused by the events and lacking any memory of how he ended up in this position, he must retrace his steps. In doing so, he follows the mystery of how he ended up in this predicament. The mystery draws the reader in, and together with the protagonist, the reader uncovers these events. It’s an intriguing mystery—far from the standard whodunnit—that works brilliantly.
Much of the mystery’s brilliance comes down to its protagonist. While every single one of Popsicle’s characters sing, they are seen through Andre’s unique perspective, and this is a perspective that adds colour to an already colourful world. As the point of view character, he is an alcoholic, a drug addict and a porn addict, whose life revolves around his vices. Through the character’s candid narration, we learn everything we need to know about him (along with a few things we don’t), and despite his numerous flaws, the reader can’t help but enjoy following his exploits. Through the story, he provides plenty of information about his backstory, how he slid into his depraved world, and the mistakes he’s made along the way. This all serves to flesh Andre out and make him all the more relatable.
Andre’s point of view is written in the first person, in the present tense. In doing so, the author’s prose brings a sense of immediacy to the story, and ensures the reader uncovers the novella’s underlying mysteries along with the protagonist. Through Andre’s narration, imbued with wit throughout, the world and story’s more outrageous aspects feel natural, helping the reader suspend disbelief.
A further factor helping the reader suspend disbelief is the sense of humour. At times gross and often profane, this is not a book for younger readers. As the book opens, the reader is treated to candid narration from the narrator, and quickly reaches its hilariously disgusting inciting incident. It doesn’t take long for the book to explain the titular “popsicle,” both an amusing aside and something that plays to the book’s themes. Packed with violence, profane language and sexual imagery, not all of it sanitary, but all of it played for laughs, Popsicle is not a book for younger readers, and some adults will struggle with the subject matter.
Popsicle is a wonderful book written in absolutely terrible taste. If the violence, sex and profanity aren’t likely to offend or trigger you, you’ll find a great mystery with splashes of horror blended with a dystopian cyberpunk world. The book is full of hilarious moments, underpinned by its overarching themes of social media addiction and love.
Man’s scalp missing. My mouth full of bloody hair.
I know I should help him, but this is also essentially a talking skull, and I’m beginning to suspect what’s in my mouth is his face. My mind tries to run down the situation. Do I drag the guy out of this hole and take him to the hospital? Judging by the evidence, I had to be the one gnawing on his head. I’ll have to leave him here or face what I’m guessing are pretty serious assault charges. Shit, I don’t even want to touch him. Fucking scary. But I’m not a complete asshole, no matter what Astrid says. I’ll see if we could make it out of here and then decide what to do. That’s if I can even find an exit.Popsicle
Popsicle was provided by BookSirens for the purpose of an honest review.
Popsicle is available in physical and Kindle formats, exclusive to Amazon.
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