Satirical college novel ‘Sourpuss’ doesn’t quite live up to its promise

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

According to the Goodreads blurb for the novel, “Sourpuss” by sister-author duo Merricat Mulwray is “a blistering satire of the depraved and entitled culture that pervades college campuses.” A read through, however, still leaves much “blistering satire” to be desired.

“Sourpuss” starts out as the story of Mallory Wahl, a track star in her senior year of college who is set on heading straight to the Olympics after graduation. When she injures herself during a race, her coach decides that the best course of action is to have Mallory work with fraternity President and sports medicine intern Graham Patterson — the very person that Mallory blames for her injury, as she claims that his unwelcome presence at the race distracted her and caused her performance to stumble. As she and Graham get closer and eventually begin a (very predictable) romance, the novel unfolds layers upon layers of depravity on the students’ campus perpetuated by both the lead duo and their backing cast of college athletes, fraternity members and students from miscellaneous corners of the school.

To its credit, “Sourpuss” has a strong, promising beginning, with Mallory and Graham being rather problematic people in their own right. Mallory, a star athlete, and Graham, a frat leader, both possess a sense of entitlement and privilege that contributes to the toxic campus climate that the novel seeks to criticize. That objective, however, is lost about halfway through the novel when the tone shifts and becomes too forgiving of the pair, turning them into martyr-like figures by the end. Thus, the novel becomes too tender to be an effective satire, losing part of its scathing critique in its inability to completely commit to Mallory and Graham as unforgivable culprits of entitlement.

Furthermore, the novel suffers from a severe lack of the comedy promised on the cover, which declares “Sourpuss” a supposed  “Dark Comedy.” The outrageousness of many of the scenes fall flat without the safety net of comedy to fall back on, and the semblances of satire in the novel lose their edge because what is meant to be a comedy instead comes across as cringe-worthy interactions. The gratuity of unnecessary, ungracefully handled violence is enough to leave readers’ heads spinning, and most of the character’s actions result in the unanswered question, “But why?”

Readers should also be aware that the novel contains two scenes in which nonconsensual sexual acts are depicted. As far as the novel’s treatment of women goes, it’s clear that “Sourpuss” aims to at least partially champion the women who fall victim to the violent climate of fraternity life, but this thesis is eventually buried underneath the overlying narrative of Mallory and Graham’s “whirlwind romance,” barely and finally touched upon at the end of the novel in an all too rushed manner.

In a novel full of mostly antagonist characters, Mallory only really rises up as a protagonist every now and then. But this is not to say that Mallory is not an interesting character. As an unabashedly brash woman, she stands out as the antithesis to the damsel-in-distress trope. At the very least, it is exceptionally refreshing to read about a female character unashamed to flaunt her ego — even if it does at times get overbearing to constantly read about just how obsessed she is with herself.

Another one of the novel’s redeeming characteristics is the fact that every main and side character serves a memorable role. Even though there isn’t anyone to truly root for, the novel at least succeeds in ensuring that everyone, while perhaps not always developed enough to have clear motivations, at least has a clear purpose within the almost 300 pages that is “Sourpuss.” While not particularly humorous, the novel has no shortage of characters that make an immediate impact on readers with their wildly out-there exclamations andrn s actions.

Ultimately and unfortunately, “Sourpuss” is more of a miss than it is a hit, not quite reaching its full potential as a novel that promises to skewer the toxic climate that pervades college campuses. It’s a “no” for this novel, but keep an eye out for the next novel from Merricat Mulwray — with the duo’s knack for characterization and over-the-top scenarios, it’s bound to usurp “Sourpuss.”

Contact Alex Jiménez at [email protected]. Tweet her at @alexluceli.