Popsickle Heart is bizarro fiction.
If you’re not familiar with the genre, here is Wikipedia’s definition. It’s important to grasp what bizarro is to give you a frame of reference for this review.
I’ve read numerous bizarro books and stories, and some of my own work has even been classified as “bizarro” by editors. I had seen some buzz about Popsickle Heart on Twitter and decided to check it out. While not without problems, I enjoyed the book.
Like most bizarro books, I’d classify Popsickle Heart as a novella. It’s brief and can be finished in one or two sittings. I enjoy novellas because they tend to strip away a lot of the extra fluff and get right to the point, which is especially important when you’re dealing with strange subject matter. So if you dig short reads, that is already a bonus.
Popsickle Heart is a story about Edgar the clown. He meets a girl, The Wheelchair Spot, and immediately falls for her. When he finds out she has lost her heart, Edgar undertakes a quest to retrieve it. Weirdness ensues.
The surreal suburban/carnival fantasy that J. Peter W. lays out is wonderful. Edgar drives a crappy old ice cream truck, with perpetually peeling paint, around a town full of skinless and eyeless people. Children torment him, demanding ice cream from a van with empty freezers. His home has been assaulted by some kind of weird ooze and a bunch of cigarette smoking toughs that have been hired to box up and move all his belongings with seemingly no explanation. Even his candy peg-legged neighbor Rod doesn’t know anything about it.
Along for this insane ride is Edgar’s sock puppet, Lumbee. Easily my favorite part of the book, Lumbee is a brilliant character. He is angry, brash, and well personified. The dialogue between Edgar and Lumbee is great, and you often forget it is a crazy clown talking to himself…or is it?
Edgar and Lumbee find themselves transported into a parallel dimension of sorts, the Carn-Evil, where cardboard clown cut outs and statue people wage war against each other over cupcake eyeballs. Yes, you just read that correctly.
He meets a mysterious Pink Woman who will lead him further into this realm of strangeness, and ultimately to what he seeks.
I don’t want to go into more plot detail as it would spoil what is a fairly short book, so lets talk a little bit about mechanics.
J. Peter W. does a solid job with characterization in just a few pages. Edgar, Lumbee, and Rod are standouts that probably get the most detail. Some of the other characters a a bit flat, literally and figuratively. His prose is great, and often poetic in some free-flowing sentences. However, I had one major gripe. He repeatedly ended a number of paragraphs with similes and metaphors. Some of the worked, while others were just way too strange and nonsensical, and seemed “weird for the sake of weird” which pulled me out of the story.
I will recommend Popsickle Heart to anyone who enjoys bizarro fiction, or absurdist/surrealist works. It is a quick and fun read, and the relationship between Edgar and Lumbee elevate it beyond its flaws.
What I Liked:
- The strange plot, juxtaposing banal suburbs with an insane carnival
- The existential horror of eyeless children demanding ice cream
What I Didn’t Like:
- Repeated similes and metaphors that fell flat
- Some characters needed to be fleshed out just a little more
- The book could have been about 20 pages longer and explored more of the Carn-Evil