Lit Lens: “Sourpuss” offers a dark satirical take on fraternities, campus culture
Managing News Editor
One of the opening lines of “Sourpuss” is an internal monologue from a college senior in reference to her fellow college-aged peers: “Come summer, I’ll be far, far away from this bunch of idiot children and their worthless degrees.” It is a bold start to what can easily be referred to as a bold debut novel from Merricat Mulwray, a pair of sisters out of Los Angeles.
“Sourpuss” kicks off with Mallory Wahl, a driven and generally unlikeable (but still somewhat admirable) protagonist at the height of her college track career. After an injury temporarily takes her out, Graham Patterson — whose personality begins and ends with “fraternity president” — offers to help her train and rehabilitate her knee.
Immediately taking a dislike to his character, Mallory decides to let him help her while also seducing him as part of some mysterious later-revealed plan. It’s a recipe for disaster already, but with background noise of frat boy one-liners (“We’re all for women’s sexual liberation. I know I liberate these hoes nightly” is an actual exchange) and Mallory’s admittedly sour attitude, it can only get worse from there. And it really, truly, absolutely does.
This all aligns with what I have been trying to find in fiction — more books about college students, more books about fraternities, more books about campus climates — making it immediately appealing. And as anyone who has listened to me talk about “Heathers” or “Sharp Objects” knows, I have a hard time resisting any story that makes me go “That is so f—ed up” while continuing to consume it without hesitation. It is a relief for me to say “Sourpuss” easily falls within that category.
The project is all the more admirable when considering that there really is not much of a defined market for books about college life from the perspective of college students (the first two coming to my mind being “Let’s Talk About Love” by Claire Kann and “Goat: A Memoir” by Brad Land). Fraternities, although also having made an appearance in the aforementioned “Goat,” are an especially challenging egg to crack.
“Sourpuss” throws the reader right into the middle of it, offering scenes of debauchery, slimy men and Mallory’s sigh-inducing hot takes (the token phrase “I don’t want to look like the other girls” in reference to looking “slutty” is, in fact, used). Even with the boldness of the scenes and characters, the book really shines in these more subtle moments with intentional and smartly integrated commentary.
Despite the fact that the characters are deliberately built to be challenging and unlikeable, I found “Sourpuss” to be thoroughly entertaining. The plot and characters range from being mildly strange to borderline absurd to genuinely messed up, all while maintaining a tone of defiant self-awareness. Mulwray does not shy away from the potential for ugliness in human nature and fully embraces the idea that maybe humans are just inherently bad. It makes for a difficult, heavy read that leads into a climax that made me think “They’re not really going to go there … they can’t go there,” before realizing they are absolutely going there. That feeling alone makes “Sourpuss” worth picking up.
Sourpuss will be published on January 20, 2019.