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(Novella Review) Sacculina by Philip Fracassi

Summary: When Jim’s big brother Jack is released from prison, the brothers-along with their broken father and Jack’s menacing best friend-decide to charter an ocean fishing boat to celebrate Jack’s new freedom. Once the small crew is far out to sea, however, a mutant species rises from the deep abyssal darkness to terrorize the vessel and its occupants. As the horror of their situation becomes clear, the small group must find a way to fend off the attack and somehow, someway, return to safety; but as the strange parasitic creatures overrun them, they must use more extreme-and deadly-measures to survive.

Content Warnings: Ableist Slur, Fatphobia, Body Horror, Gore

Review: I had never heard of Philip Fracassi until acquaintance and Twitter mutual, Trevor Henderson, recommended his novella, Sacculina. Now, if you don’t know, Trevor has some of the best recommendations in the genre. Whether it’s movies, books, or games, his taste has rarely let me down. Once again, I trusted him and picked up Sacculina for a good, summer read. 

For the most part, it’s another solid pick. Sacculina makes me want to read the rest of Fracassi’s work even though it stumbled on a few regressive choices. 

Perhaps the best part about this book is its pacing. Sacculina is as thin as a novella can get, but it never feels like it’s missing something or needed more time to develop its plot points. Fracassi gives just enough exposition, character development, and tension to make a perfect, speedy little read. 

Furthermore, he does a great job with the scares in this one. The ocean is a fruitful source of horror, and Fracassi’s decision to go with, of all things, barnacles as the monster is ingenious. These monsters’ MO had me hesitating whenever I strayed too deep into the sea’s pull during the beach vacation I read this one. Speaking as a Floridian with Caribbean roots, it takes a lot to make me fear something as familiar as the ocean, but Fracassi pulls it off. 

However, I do think the narrative stumbles in two places. One, the novella engages in frequent fatphobia around the character of the captain leading our characters through their fishing trip. The narration constantly uses this character’s weight and body to portray how ridiculous he looks or to display how possibly unfit he might be at his job. 

His introductory passage makes sure to even snidely remark that “the captain had bits of food stuck in his dense beard,” for example (9). Even when the captain proves his expertise in marine animals and the like, our narrator can’t help but point out the gut. 

Furthermore, in the latter part of the book, our main character, Jim, goes briefly out of character to call the “menacing best friend” in the summary a “r—–.” This doesn’t make sense, even in the context of his emotions going wild as the climax nears. Jim is terrified of Chris and rightly so considering his size and general lack of empathy. 

As small as this might seem, as a neurodivergent person, it’s always jarring when something like this happens. Especially when it comes from the main character, a person who we’re supposed to empathize with as danger comes nipping at their heels! 

Nevertheless, I definitely don’t regret picking up Sacculina. The book gives a rather creative monster with a familiar premise and ends up delivering a pretty great story. It’s the perfect little treat for your beach time follies. Just don’t get too close to the deep.

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Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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