Review by Tony Jones
“There are much, much nastier things at sea than sharks…..”
The kindle was made for this perfectly pitched slice of sea horror, making great novellas that might have been tricky to track down a few year instantly accessible. Fortunately for me I had the luxury of reading “Sacculina” in under ninety minutes whilst flying to a family wedding, but if I had been sailing to that same wedding I doubt I would have enjoyed it so much! In recent years the horror world has been enrichen by the renaissance of the novella and I’ve really enjoyed stuff by the likes of Josh Malerman and Ted E Grau and so now I have Philip Fracassi to add to my ‘must read’ pile. Obviously I’ve been aware of his growing reputation for a while, as he’s been making big waves as a writer of short horror fiction, but this was my first read. It certainly will not be my last.
“Sacculina” was a very tight and compact story set entirely on a small day-trip fishing boat. Jim is the younger brother of Jack, who has just been released from prison after six years inside for housebreaking. After his release he says the first thing he wants to do is go fishing, something neither of the brothers have done before. Chris, who is Jack’s larger than life best friend tags along, Jim suspects that Chris may have been an accomplice in the activities that sent Jack to prison. Their father Henry joins, now a shadow of his former self after his son’s imprisonment and the death of his wife from cancer. Fracassi’s easy knack with words very quickly develop believable backstories before the four men hit the sea, looking to find an escape in fishing, possibly from themselves.
Ron is the captain of the boat and the only other character of note in the novella. Initially he didn’t fancy the weather that day, the other four should have listened to him, instead intimidated by Chris the captain takes them out to sea and into something very, very nasty. The family dynamics are an important part of the story as Jack has obviously changed considerably in his six years away and this friction is maintained right to the final conclusion. Along the way there are a couple of terrific flashbacks/nightmares as the story is told from Jim’s point of view, the first of his dying mother and the second involving a fight with his brother when they were boys. Both sequences really ramp up the atmosphere.
Obviously the trip doesn’t go to plan. Diesel fumes from the engine ruins the scenic journey and when Captain Ron finally finds a fishing spot he likes Jim catches the first fish of the day. Once they land the fish they realise it looks odd and has weird bulbous lumps on it which Captain Ron says are barnacles. He also says it is impossible for barnacles to lash onto a fish so small. Soon they realise these barnacles are all over the place. To say any more of the plot would ruin it…..
If you like your horror full of dread, tension and atmosphere then this is for you as it really covers all the emotions in a pretty brief read. I also loved the way the author refused to pad the story in any way, even though there were plenty of opportunities to do so. There is a knack to writing great novellas, the balance between too many ideas and the one dimensional, and Fracassi balances it just right. “Sacculina” cleverly develops one small horror idea and builds a punchy self-contained story around this concept. It’s a pretty simple horror concept: five men go out to sea and something horrible happens. So let Philip Fracassi take you on a ninety minute voyage, at least the reader can abandon ship or switch your kindle off…… Recommended.
Read John Boden's excellent interview with Phillip here
"SACCULINA is a smart, terrifying, and poignant tale of creeping menace. I devoured it in one frenzied sitting... this Fracassi guy is damn good."
Richard Chizmar, author of A Long December and co-author (with Stephen King) of Gwendy's Button Box
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.