I don’t write many book reviews, but every once in a while, a piece of prose smacks me in the brain and heart so hard that I have to share its greatness with my fellow constant readers.
I discovered Sour Candy (written by Kealan Patrick Burke) via the type of product synergy that would make marketing and accounting departments swoon. It showed up on a list of titles the Goodreads algorithm thought I would like. It also had a cool looking cover, so I clicked on it. (Anyone who claims that covers play no part in a book’s ability to sell is full of it).
Then I saw the price: Only $2.99 for Kindle, my preferred method of word consumption. The book was short (67 pages), but the opportunity to read a stand-alone novella was just too trendy to pass up.
I began reading late Monday night with the intention getting a few pages in. Instead, I read until my eyes refused to stay open. Today, I read during every spare moment I got until the reaching the end. During the final pages, you probably could have lit me on fire and I wouldn’t have noticed. Sour Candy may not have much of a word count, but it packs a full-length novel dose of superb writing wrapped in a genuinely unsettling story.
It begins with a simple enough premise. Phil goes to Walmart, where he encounters a kid that’s having a complete meltdown while the parent/guardian helplessly watches it happen. We’ve all been there, at least as an uncomfortable spectator.
But then the kid looks at Phil and smiles. Everything goes downhill from there. And don’t think for a second that this is some B.S. rip off of The Omen. The main character is put through rings of hell Dante never even thought of. Phil’s torment is crafted via a mix of common regret, existential dread, and supernatural Lovecraftian horror. Burke does a truly fantastic job reflecting Phil’s suffering into real world worries and concerns, but doesn’t skimp on the monstrous aspects (i.e. cool scary stuff), either.
I thought I saw the ending coming, but I didn’t. And then I did. And then I didn’t again. And then I got to the last line, felt something cold drop into the pit of my stomach, and went to the bathroom so I wouldn’t piss my pants. In other words, the conclusion, like the rest of the story, is great.
If you’ve got $3 and you’re looking for something great to read, you could do a lot worse than Sour Candy. Just make sure to block out some time. It won’t take more than an hour or two to finish, but that doesn’t account for the sleep you’ll lose from the resulting nightmares.