Children are terrifying.

Many of us find ourselves in violent, little battles with them throughout the course of our day to day lives. Staring contests on the bus. Trying not to step on them as they run around our feet in Starbucks. And, the worst of the worst, having to endure listening to their howls as the throw a tantrum that their mother won’t buy them the reduced-price loaf of bread that they must have. We smile, of course, and nod. Or we stare fixedly at a point in space to studiously ignore the child’s scream. And then we forget them.

But what if we couldn’t?

What if that child followed you home?

Synopsis of Kealan Patrick Burke’s Sour Candy

That’s the situation Phil Pendleton finds himself in as he leaves the local supermarket after a quick trip to pick up snacks for himself and his girlfriend, Lori. After noticing a haggard mother and oddly dressed little boy having a battle of wills over a bag of sour candy, Phil finds himself in a car crash with the woman and her boy. As he lays prostrate on the road, she comes up to him, leans over him, and promises “yours now.”

And then she’s gone.

What follows in Kealan Patrick Burke’s Sour Candy is a surrealist journey through seventy-four pages of a novella that thrusts fatherhood, madness, and a diet consisting of only the titular sour candy for Phil Pendleton and Adam, the son no one believes can’t be his.

Parenthood in Horror

Horror is a fantastic genre for studying modern cultural attitudes and fears. Largely, it is one of the quickest genres to react to major changes and trends that impact most of our lives.

Parents, and how they navigate parenthood, is one of these rapidly changing structures of our society.

Mostly because you can never do everything right.

Or, at least, it’s easy to feel that way.

We’ve all days when scrolling through social media when every second post seems to be about someone getting pregnant, or some kid’s first day at school, or some other milestone that means exceedingly little to you but a massive amount for the parent posting it.

What Kealan Patrick Burke does in Sour Candy is demonstrate how perilously difficult it is to balance your sanity as a human and your responsibilities as a parent.


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Without spoiling the plot, Phil finds himself lost in a macabre and twisted reality where the life he believes he had before the accident at the supermarket (i.e., childless) is not the life that rest of the world believes him to have post-accident. His ex-wife, his (now) ex-girlfriend, the police, and all the pictures on the walls of his home promise him that Adam, the screaming boy from the supermarket, is his adopted son. And has been since he was a baby.

Throughout the prose, the sucking and all-consuming nature of parenthood is made abundantly clear. The sacrifices needed to be a parent – from hygiene, diet, exercise, freedom – all sap at Phil’s life with unyielding ferocity. From lack of sleep, to losing all his teeth, the metaphor is apparent on every page.

Of course, the “cuckoo boy” as he’s referred to in the book is not all he seems. And that, in itself, is another metaphor, one that is dealt with in horror more readily in contemporary literature (See Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth).

Horror ramps up the suspense, and twists the narrative to evoke a chill or scare, but the message is transparent:

Do any of you really know your children at all?

Last Updated on October 10, 2021.

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