During a recent trip to the library, I picked up a couple of intriguing short works of fiction. I finished the first, Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente.
Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.
It’s just that he’s away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.
But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband’s face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can’t quite meet her gaze…
But everything is perfect. Isn’t it?
My quick take
I enjoyed it for the odd novella that it was but, like many, wondered if it delivered on its promise.
It was creepy and atmospheric in some ways; a sense of building panic, of something wrong just off page. Not sure I would call it horror or even a thriller (the book cover says “terrifying new thriller”). And the language and prose is wonderful in that unique Valente style. But the mystical feminist or anti-men ending with its Biblical language and imagery was both weird and a little unclear.
I read it in one sitting. Can’t imagine buying a copy unless I was a big time Valente fan, but I did find it an interesting diversion on a cold Monday night.
For me the quickness of the read, and the fact that I checked it out from the library made it a low risk. Others have reacted differently. Check out Goodreads to get a flavor.
For other reviews see below.
This gem of a novella from Valente (The Past Is Red) packs a lot of intrigue into a brief page count.
A masterful late reveal proves this to be a clever reworking of a famous story, reframing all that came before. Though there are some moments of excessive exposition, Valente packs in enough charm, curiosity, and foreboding to make this worthwhile. Fans will be delighted.
Will you enjoy COMFORT ME WITH APPLES? A qualified yes, if you aren’t too literal about the Bible’s account of the Creation and have a fondness for allegories. I must confess that I’m not crazy about them, mostly because they tend to reduce characters to symbols. In this case, though, Sophia registered as a genuine person, and I rooted for her to outwit the two males (Adam and God the Father) and survive.
Crisp and sharp, this provocative feminist reinterpretation of the Garden of Eden is no candy apple. It has more flavor than that. Go on — I dare you to take a bite.
So, from the outset, the question posed – and a pretty effective engine of suspense – is whether we’re headed toward some version of Bluebeard, or Stepford, or a surreal suburban fantasia like the movie Vivarium, or some sort of science fictional VR environment, or even a sitcom-parody-with-a-secret like WandaVision (though Valente’s story almost certainly predates that). It’s no real surprise that Sophia begins to discover chinks and inconsistencies in her perfect world – that’s what fictional perfect worlds are for – but the manner in which Valente modulates the incremental mysteries is undeniably skillful; the tale is a masterclass in pacing and tone. Readers might reasonably have differing responses to Valente’s resolution and what it implies, but Comfort Me With Apples is also the sort of well-crafted tale that sends you back through the text to note how carefully she’s planted her clues. It’s a story nearly as seamless and ominous as Sophia’s outsized house and her creepy neighborhood.