This is the premise of Patricia Wants to Cuddle, the fast-paced and fun (but warning: somewhat gory) debut novel by Seattle reporter and memoirist Samantha Allen, published in late June. “My attitude was: If I’m going to write fiction, I’m going to make it as fictional as possible,” says Allen, a former Crosscut contributor. “I want it to be big, I want it to be bold, and I want it to have a lesbian Sasquatch.”
In this book, and in Allen’s mind, horror and humor are not mutually exclusive. When one of the main characters, a contestant on The Catch, spots the beast in the woods of the idyllic but fictional Otters Island (the site of a 1990s disappearance of three women hikers), she’s baffled: “A lady ape? That walks on two legs?...Is she still on that bad Coachella trip?”
Coming in at 240 pages and alternating between characters’ perspectives, chat boxes and letters, the “creature feature” book packs an entertaining and cinematic punch. But darker themes — like the artifice of social media and reality tv shows, and societal pressures to conform — lurk beneath the surface.
Ahead of Allen’s appearance at Elliott Bay Books on Friday (where she’ll discuss her essay in a recent anthology and sign copies of Patricia Wants to Cuddle), she spoke with Crosscut about her love of slasher movies, The Bachelor and Love Island, and the enduring allure of Sasquatch.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
You wrote in a recent essay that people have called your book “bonkers,” “bananas” and “bizarre.” Do you agree with that assessment?
To me, because I inhabit my own weird little brain, it feels like the most normal book in the world. But I can see how people who might not spend their free time dreaming up combinations of reality shows and horror movies might find it a little outré, for sure. [But] I embrace the gonzo nature of Patricia Wants to Cuddle.
Speaking of your love of slasher movies and elimination-style reality TV dating shows, where does your fascination with those two things come from?
I think both are a form of bloodsport. One is more mainstream and culturally acceptable (reality shows) and one still has a little bit of a shroud of danger around it (horror movies). I was interested in merging them, mostly to show viewers of reality shows that you are essentially just watching a horror movie, one that's a lot nicer and with a lot less blood.… It’s, much like horror movies, one of these outlets for the aggression and violence of just existing as a human in society.
In some circles, both genres are still considered lowbrow. Why did you go that route and was that a specific choice you made?
Absolutely. We often think of reality TV as a lowbrow form. I certainly, when it first came on the air when I was a teenager, thought of it that way. I was like, “The Bachelor and Survivor will be on for five seasons, and then we'll just get right back to scripted programming, and then be done with this silliness.” But the longer you watch it and the more the medium has evolved, you learn so much about our society and our culture from reality TV programs. You learn some from what appears on the show, but you also learn a lot from how it’s presented, edited, produced, cut together — that all says a lot about our cultural values, about our phobias, about racism, about homophobia.
It’s interesting you mention scripted programming — what I thought came through in the book was that reality TV and Instagram are scripted even though they’re presented as reality.
Patricia Wants to Cuddle is definitely grappling with themes of truth, realness, authenticity and, on the other side, you know, fakeness. It’s a book about how reality gets filtered and how that's an inherently violent act.
You’ve written that you were, at first, not sure about writing a campy book, but then leaned into it. What was the hesitation that you had to overcome?
Before writing Patricia Wants to Cuddle, I had built a career as a “serious” journalist. I had written a nonfiction book, Real Queer America, I've written for major media outlets and local media outlets. And so I’m not sure anyone was really expecting me to go this direction. I sort of feel like I came out as queer, and now I'm coming out as like a weird fiction writer. Like, this was my secret heart’s desire all along. Once I sort of let go of the idea of still presenting myself as this fundamentally serious person, I realized how much fun it was to just go wild.
In another essay, you make a case for earlier slasher films — that they're actually saying more than people give them credit for. Is that the case with your book as well?
With Patricia Wants to Cuddle, I used the slasher format to explore racism, heteronormativity and queerness. With the “final girl” trope [in shows like The Bachelor], especially, it opens a door for you to explore not just the violence of surviving a night of being attacked by a monster, but the violence of existing in the world as a social and cultural other.
Now that we’re talking about “the other,” why Bigfoot? What about this lore is so compelling to you?
When I started out writing, I thought I would have a human threat — I thought it would be more similar to the Scream movies. And, obviously, being in Seattle, I am daily besieged with Bigfoot imagery, and I think it sort of seeped into my subconscious.
To me, my cryptid, my Patricia, she’s a representation of the kind of femininity that lurks in the shadow of shows like The Bachelor or Love Island. Patricia is everything — to paint with a little bit of a broad brush — the women on the shows are terrified of being: She is big, she is hairy, she is visibly muscular.
In the last two or three years, several movies about looking for or finding Sasquatch have been released, and now your book. Why are we thinking about Sasquatch now?
I certainly have a theory and it's thematically linked to Patricia: In an increasingly dystopian age, I think our longing intensifies for something rural, preindustrial and sort of apart from the world. I think we want to believe in Bigfoot, and we may be searching for Bigfoot more now, because our lives feel increasingly difficult and often meaningless. … Bigfoot represents a fantasy of life detached from the demands of capital, of life that is peaceful, of life that is abundant during an era of chaos and scarcity.
I don't want to give too much away, but this idea of living life away from these demands is represented in the book as well, specifically for queer women.
Queer people, especially at a time when anti-LGBTQ legislation is ramping up around the country, at a time when we're dealing with all sorts of prejudices, culturally and politically, we dream about “a room of our own,” so to speak. There's often been the fantasy of, ‘Oh, what would it be like to go to the woods and start a commune’ or just exist apart from straight society. And I think part of what I'm exploring in Patricia is the sad truth that we can never really fully escape that, or at least we can’t escape that without cost.
While Patricia reflects darker themes, it also feels like an escapist book. Is the “beach read” label something you embrace or scoff at?
I wholeheartedly embrace the beach read label. Yet to me, writing it was kind of about walking a tightrope between it having literary elements but also being very propulsive: I designed it to be read in one or two sittings. I wanted it to be a slim little volume that you could pack in a tote bag. Please read it on a beach.
My first thought when I finished the book was that it felt brief. My second thought was: “This should be a movie.” Have the [film] rights been bought yet?
I will have to tease here and say, Watch this space. Dot dot dot.
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