Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Tordotcom, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
In this short, quasi-horror novel, we follow Sophia, a devoted wife living in a seemingly idyllic gated community, where residents are promised a life of safety from the dangers of the outside world as long as they abide by the strict set of rules. Troubled by strange objects she begins to find around her home, intrigued by the locked cellar, and suspicious of her husband’s increasing absences, Sophia begins to worry that her perfect existence isn’t quite what it seems.
There is, as you’d expect from the setup, an element of mystery that lies at the heart of this slim yet impactful story. In that respect, it is arguably best to head in knowing as little as possible. That said, most of the twists and turns are ultimately derivative of works we’ve seen before. Parallels with Ira Levin’s novel The Stepford Wives, the classic fairy tale Bluebeard, and Darren Aronofsky’s film Mother are impossible to ignore. If you’ve seen and/or read these, nothing will prove especially surprising, despite how clever the gradual eking out of the truth may initially seem. While this meant much of the story’s potential impact felt somewhat dampened for me, the quietly sinister atmosphere, striking imagery, and swift delivery kept me compelled nonetheless.
The prose itself is lush and flowery. In some instances, it would feel overwrought, but here it feels reflective of Sophia’s naive, sickly-sweet worldview, foreshadowing the rude awakening that lies ahead.
This wasn’t the knockout favourite I hoped it could be – given how many of its elements appeal directly to my taste. But while it may not be all that original, I certainly found it worthwhile and well-executed.