Open Pen aims to encourage
“growth within our talented, fertile, literary underbelly. We are a platform for up-and-coming writers from all backgrounds, with particular interest in working class writers.”
The Prick, by Mazin Saleem, is one of Open Pen’s novelettes – there are currently five of these available. Each offers a topical and thought provoking story that cuts through the gloss sometimes applied to apparent reality. The authors are not afraid to say it as it is.
This tale opens with a young couple, Will and Agatha, during the final week of what they had planned as a year long world adventure (don’t call it a holiday). They are in Greece preparing to go snorkelling. Once out in the open water, Will gets caught in a riptide. He is rescued by a bodyboarder, Roland, who is part of a stag party. Feeling that he owes the man his life, Will seeks Roland out to offer his thanks. Thus begins a decade long ‘friendship’ between two men who all but despise what the other chooses to be.
The chapters deal with ‘That Day’, ‘The Day After That Day’, ‘A Week After That Day’ and so on, as Will and Roland meet up socially and quickly come to realise how little they like each other. Will considers Roland to be a prick for the way he talks and acts. He is, nevertheless, strangely fascinated and obsessed. Much to Agatha’s bewilderment, Will stalks Roland over social media, relaying what he finds as amusing anecdotes to his friends. Without Will’s feelings of obligation, these friends are bemused by Roland where Will is often appalled. Somehow, though, he cannot break away. They attend the same parties and partake in mutual interests together. It is a fascinating study of how frenemies choose to interact rather than seeking avoidance.
There are many cringeworthy moments along with humour in the story. Both men behave badly at times. Roland appears content with his actions. Will, a seeker of admiration and affirmation, feels vicarious shame.
The climax occurs when the men go on an adventure holiday together. Thrown into extended close proximity, there is a dangerous reckoning. The denouement offers added depth and is skillfully rendered.
When stories as satisfying as this can be told in just over a hundred pages I am left wondering why we need so many lengthy books. I will be looking out for further work from the author. This is an entertaining and recommended read.
The Prick is published by Open Pen.