It is the mark of a great writer that can give us one hopeful, heartwarming post-apocalyptic novella and a creepy what-the-hell-is-going-on type novella in the same year. Cat Valente is such a writer and so she not only delivered two vastly different books this year but also succeeded in making them both work incredibly well. If you want to feel creeped out (but not in a jump scare way) or made uncomfortable by a book, if you need something you want to devour in one sitting, then this is for you.
COMFORT ME WITH APPLES
by Catherynne M. Valente
Published: Tordotcom, 26th October 2021
Hardcover: 112 pages
My rating: 8.5/10
Opening line: The Following Agreement is made this first day of the first month between the members of the Arcadia Gardens Homeowners Association [hereinafter known as “the Association”] and the title-holders of 1 Cedar Drive [hereinafter known as the “Residents”].
A terrifying new thriller from bestseller Catherynne M. Valente, for fans of Gone Girl and Spinning Silver
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?
This novella is only 112 pages long and its wonderful creep factor hinges on not knowing what’s going on, so I will remain very, very vague in describing the plot and characters. In fact, if I’m being honest, I think you shouldn’t read this review at all before you have read the book. It’s best to go into it knowing as little as possible and enjoying how things slowly unravel, how your mind picks up on certain clues, and how it all comes together in the end.
But do make sure you pick this up when you have enough time to finish it. You won’t find a good spot to put the book down. It wants to be read in one go.
So, what’s this about and why is it so great? Well, it’s about Sophia, who lives in Arcadia Gardens, an exclusive luxury residential area where everything is perfect. Sophia loves her husband, even if he’s often away for work, she loves her house and her neighbors, she enjoys her place in society and the life she has made for herself. That is, until something turns up that makes no sense, something that shouldn’t be here, something Sophia can’t let go…
Okay, this is as much as I want to say about the plot because one word more and I might just accidentally burst out something spoilery. But while this is a book with a pretty cool twist, that wasn’t even the best part. What I enjoyed the most was that constant feeling of knowing something is wrong but not being able to put my finger on it. I got ideas pretty quickly, as clues are literally everywhere, but I could never be sure if what I was imagining was the truth or just a theory (I got it right just before the truth was revealed in the book, so kudos for keeping me in the dark that long).
Sophia’s story is delightfully creepy, not because she faces monsters or anything – Arcadia Gardens is perfect, after all, how could there be monsters? – but because reading about it feels so incredibly uncomfortable. It reminded me of a certain movie which I can’t mention because that, too, could be a spoiler, but that movie also created this atmosphere of wrongness. If you enjoy being left in the dark for a while, solving riddles, playing with words, and paying attention to little details, you will have a blast reading this. And even if you do pick up on the hints, you won’t necessarily figure everything out by yourself so there is still that final twist.
That reveal at the end had been building up more and more and so it wasn’t this super shocking moment, but it fit so perfectly into what came before that I had to wonder why I hadn’t guessed it right away. It will certainly make a re-read all the more interesting. Knowing what to look for, I’m sure I’ll find a ton more hints and Easter eggs that I missed the first time.
Everything falls into place so well, everything suddenly makes sense where before I wanted to shout at the characters “What the hell is wrong with you, why are you like that and what kind of a messed up place is this Arcadia Gardens?!” And while Sophia is certainly a sympathetic protagonist, it was only there at the end that I truly started liking her and felt the impact of what she had found out. It’s amazing to me that I can follow a character with very little personality and then suddenly have a knife twisted in my heart that I didn’t even know hat struck me. Well done, Cat Valente, well done!
I have said pretty much nothing about this book even though I have so much to say. But I don’t do spoilers on this blog and this novella is impossible to talk about in any detail without spoilers. So you’ll just have to take my word for it, pick it up, and read that first page. You won’t be able to put it down until you’re done.
MY RATING: 8.5/10 – Excellent!