Short Take: “Sick, Part I,” Christa Wojciechowski

Pros: Morbidly fascinating
Cons: The characters are over-the-top
Rating: 4 out of 5

Christa Wojciechowski’s novella “Sick: Part I” is part of her SICK: Psychological Suspense Series Box Set, which includes three volumes. In part I, we meet John Branch and his wife, Susan, who’s a nurse. John has a long and storied history of illness dating back to his childhood. He has some sort of tricky blood disorder, constantly turns up bruised, has broken a number of bones, and ends up in the hospital regularly. Susan is beside herself trying to keep her job while taking care of him. They’ve lost his family wealth, Susan isn’t showing up to work regularly (and has started stealing Demerol for John), and Susan has started finding strange things in the house (a hammer under their bed; an opened bottle of anti-freeze).

John is, from the start, clearly manipulative. There’s an odd son/mother vibe to his relationship with Susan, and he often convinces her to do things by acting childlike. It isn’t long before we find out that the only times his mother paid him any attention when he was young was when he was ill, so the suspicions pile up quickly. Susan’s life is falling apart–where will it take her next?

I’m not really sure whether I’d consider this horror, or a thriller, or perhaps some odd thing like “psychological fiction”–the author is exploring a disorder through the lens of watching a couple fall apart. I did find some of the material (particularly John’s manipulation) to be rather over-the-top, and of course there are no really likable characters in here. Even Susan is a bit of a martyr, steals Demerol, and has a few racist thoughts running around in her head.

Content note for explicit sex and a variety of unflinching medical descriptions. (As a note in case you’re thinking of reading the whole series, there’s also a little bit of animal harm in the next volume.)

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