Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen
At first, Amanda registers it as a dog or a bear, but it looks almost human, its contours twisting into an expression that is equal parts hunger and despair – a deep, almost prehistoric longing.
The critique of books as “lightweight” or “women’s fiction” tends to be veiled misogyny. And by managing to both accept this genre and tackle this issue within its very subject matter makes Patricia Wants to Cuddle a much cleverer book than its premise may initially suggest. A queer love story featuring a lesbian cryptid set on Love Island may sound “lightweight,” but this novel is anything but.
Patricia Wants to Cuddle takes a cynical look at essentially, the entire modern world. By using mixed media recognizable to the dating show addict and Redditor, we are confronted head-on with the darkness of a world where reality and “reality” are so vastly bifurcated.
The contestants on ‘The Catch,’ the book’s equivalent to The Bachelor, are shown to, to varying degrees, have motives other than love for appearing on television. “Desire can be such a heady substitute for self-confidence. But she’s trying to stop searching for herself in the eyes of others—especially the dead eyes of a greasy-haired gym junkie.” Whether to boost their own profiles, escape the confines of their past, or simply stroke their own egos, the contestants are far removed from their base human instincts.
To these women, everything is a commodity, and what actually goes on in their lives is a secondary story to be kept out of their dating show narrative. This total detachment from reality is brought starkly into focus by the frighteningly natural wilderness of Otter Island, a place where true intimacy can flourish. The untamed joy of what the island has to offer is depicted in stark contrast to the filtered and edited modern world.
The book manages to build tension masterfully. From the moment we arrive at Otter Island, we know something isn’t quite right – but we can’t put our finger on what. The sheep seem ill-at-ease, we spy a strange shadow under a tree, and see what might (or, just as easily, might not) be a severed arm floating in the water. The online sleuthing community serve us well, bringing to the fore the questions on everyone’s lips through diligent scrolling of internet archives. The reader feels almost as if they, too, are up late at night in an internet rabbit-hole, looking for answers.
Patricia Wants to Cuddle also takes a violent jab at the duty of care on these reality dating shows – or, more accurately, the lack thereof. The setting of Otter Island was chosen solely as a cost-cutting exercise, and a lack of research into its murky past leaves the show’s contestants vulnerable.
Even more ghoulishly, once disaster strikes, the online fans’ primary concern is whether or not the show will air. Allen also offers a biting take on the macabre nature of true crime with the documentary press releases appended to the book. Even after tragedy, the world is still all about product, product, product.While these themes of social media criticism are clever and innovative, Patricia Wants to Cuddle, is, at its heart, a book about what it means to be a person. “This is not where she pictured herself at this point in life, but then again, she had always had trouble even envisioning being alive past thirty. All the possibilities she had seen in her own circles—getting married, getting divorced, raising kids, aspirational suburban grilling—each of them felt tragic in their own right, all equally dead ends. Something inside of her had always felt like it was decaying, doomed, not long for this world. But telling that to anyone would make her feel crazy.”
Annie Walton Doyle is a 20-something writer based in Manchester, UK. She typically writes about beauty and other “personal aesthetics,” with a healthy dose of both social commentary and stupidity. When not touching makeup or reading books, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature, and mysteries.