the Little Red Reviewer

Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka

Posted on: June 23, 2019

Stay Crazy by Erika L. Satifka

Published in 2016

Where I got it: purchased new

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Erica Satifka’s Stay Crazy came out in 2016, and while I was lucky enough to get to interview Erica back in 2016, I’ve not had a chance to sit down and read the novel until now.  Stay Crazy won the 2017 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and Satifka’s short fiction has appeared in Clarksworld, Shimmer, Fireside, Lightspeed, Nature, and elsewhere.

 

If you’ve never read Philip K Dick, but you’re kinda interested in his stuff,  you should read Stay Crazy. (just like if you’ve never read H.P. Lovecraft but his stuff sounds interesting, you should read Lucy Snyder because she writes it better than he ever did). Satifka took her enjoyment of Dick’s working class characters, grey morality, unreality and paranoia, and put it through her own filter of sarcasm and dark humor.   I’ve just read that sentence, and it doesn’t sound like a fun thing to read, does it? Well, i’m a shitty sentence writer, because Stay Crazy was hella fun to read, so much so that I read the last 100 pages in one sitting because I needed to know what happened, and I needed to know right now! The book is a pleasure to read, it is paced very well, the plot is tightly designed, and every time I finished a chapter it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to read the next chapter.

 

The story opens with Emmeline coming home from a mental institution. She’d had a mental break while at college.  She’s now at home, complete with stacks of medication for her diagnosed schizophrenia, twice weekly appointments with her shrink,  a sister who has immersed herself in the local cult church, and a mom who has no idea how to talk about mental health issues but does truly care for both of her daughters.

 

Em needs to get out of the house, so she gets a part time job at the local big box store, Savertown. Savertown is an over the top, gloriously ridiculous, patriotism obsessed satire of Wal-Mart.  Even so, Em finds a quiet peace in stocking frozen food. She can get in the groove of unloading pallets, no one is bothering her, no one at work stares at her like she’s just home from a mental institution.

 

It’s all going great until a box of frozen food starts talking to her, and telling her his name is Excodex and he is an intelligence from another dimension who needs her help to stop an evil entity. He promises her that if she helps him that he’ll tell her where her father is. Is she hearing voices again? Is a box of frozen food talking to her because she needs to up her meds? And then seemingly happy and well adjusted people at work start committing suicide.

 

There is a ton of “drinking the kool-aid” happening in this book, and my sick sense of humor always gets a kick out of this kind of thing.  There’s a sign in the breakroom at work that “no outside reading material allowed”. Long term employees at Savertown don’t seem to have any life (or want a life) outside of work. The work therapist who is brought into the store due to the recent rash of suicides seems to give worse advice than a talking box of frozen chicken nuggets.

I am also a huge fan of authors telling me just less than I want to know.  I love it when the main plot line is the primary focus, but there are all these other little things happening on the edge of the scenes that the author touches on, but doesn’t expand on. Those are the things that tell me this story is just a blip in the character’s lives, that there is a ton of other stuff going on that I might never know about.  I’m not explaining it well, but Satifka excels at this thing that I love. For example, Em’s relationship with her mom. Em’s father walked out on the family when she was a little girl, and her mom never wants to talk about him. Em has wonderful memories of her father, activities he did with her when she was a child, presents he bought her, advice he gave her.  From outside her story, I can tell some things about her dad that she’s not thinking about, things that for sure put a strain on the marriage and probably frustrated the shit out of Em’s mom. Did her dad also suffer from mental health issues? Most likely. Does Satifka ever explicitly state any of this? Nope. and that is what made hearing only Em’s side of the story so perfect for me.

 

So what the hell is going on here?  Is Em a little crazy? She has psychotic episodes that she doesn’t remember having,  she isn’t sure if she’s hallucinating or not when she sees a strange brown mist emanating from a co-worker, and she’s never once thinks she might be hearing things when he voice of Escodex tells her record conversations and secretly film people at work.

 

You might be a little crazy, you might be having terrible side effects from your anti-psychotic medications.  You might not know how to verbally express what’s happening, for fear that you’ll just get sent back to the looney-bin.  But that doesn’t mean that an alien intelligence isn’t talking you to in the only way it can, and that an evil entity isn’t making people at work kill themselves, and that there aren’t subliminal messages in your mom’s televangelist DVDs.

 

I think one of the reasons that I read the end of this book at a breakneck pace was that I was terrified someone would find Em’s notebook.  I also really liked how Em and her sister were clumsily trying to repair their relationship with each other. I loved the weird unreality of things, I appreciated that no matter how unreal things got, Em still had to get out of bed every day, go to work, and make it through the next day. She just kept swimming, you know?

 

I still can’t get over how Satifka wrote a book that combines living with a severe mental illness, a brilliant satirization  American big box stores that are obsessed with smiling employees who live to make customers happy, a dysfunctional family that is trying to become more functional, and a girl looking for her missing dad, and managed to make it so damn fun.

 

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10 Responses to "Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka"

Haven’t heard of this at all, but it seems up my alley. Thanks!

Liked by 1 person

it was super fun and weird! I hope you get a chance to read it! this book is small press, so it won’t be at Barnes and Noble. If you’re interested, you’ll have to request your library purchase a copy (they probably will!), do a special order from your local indie bookstore, or order it from the publisher Apex Books, or from Amazon.

Liked by 2 people

Thanks — that advice is much appreciated.

I’m going to talk to my sister, too, who just graduated with a degree in library science!

Liked by 2 people

Oh, this sounds perfect! I’ve got to get myself a copy. 🙂
(Have you read Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor? Some of what you mentioned here made me think of that book … just a little bit, you know?)
You read the coolest stuff! 😀

Liked by 1 person

I’ve seen Welcome to Nightvale, I really need to get a copy and read it, because it looks really cool!

one of the thousand ways that I find the cool books I find: get suggestions from friends, follow small presses (Apex and Mythic Delirium, looking at you!!), read short fiction magazines (Clarkesworld, Lightspeed). I find magazine editors, anthology editors, and blogger friends whose tastes run parallel-ish to mine, and see what they recommend/like. I’ve been lucky enough to attend some small local scifi conventions, and just chatting with random people there has given me a huge TBR of stuff I didn’t know about too!

Liked by 2 people

It’s definitely worth reading (and there’s a second book out now called It Devours, which I’m hoping will be just as good).
And I find it fascinating how people come by the books they read- so thank you. I’m particularly interested in the whole short fiction magazine thing – a few bloggers have mentioned magazines they get … maybe I need to look into that a bit more.

Liked by 2 people

cool!
great SFF magazines to start with – Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Shimmer, and Uncanny. Both Apex magazine and Mythic Delirium have a ton of back issues online, but they aren’t publishing new issues right now. All of these short fiction magazines publish most of their stuff online, but you all of it faster (and you get to support a great magazine!) by subscribing. Electronic subscription goes right to your kindle app or e-reader, print subscriptions are a little harder to come by because of the cost.

Liked by 2 people

Thank you for the recommendations! I shall investigate … 😀

Liked by 1 person

I looked at this book (on the Apex catalogues) and thought it might be my kind of book tbh – even though it does sound completely crazy – talking food for example.
‘i’m a shitty sentence writer’ – nope – I liked that description you wrote – does that make me a shitty sentence lover? I’ll leave it there – my breakfast is calling me – not literally of course.
Lynn 😀

Liked by 1 person

your breakfast is talking to you, asking you to eat it? this book is DEFINITELY for you! 🙂

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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