cover image Stone Fruit

Stone Fruit

Lee Lai. Fantagraphics, $24.99 (236p) ISBN 978-1-68396-426-1

The central couple in Lai’s subtly layered graphic novel debut appear in its first panels as feral creatures with giant, elongated catlike eyes and sharp teeth, chasing through the woods with their equally monstrous niece, Nessie. A phone call from Nessie’s mother transports them back to the real world, and turns them and back into women—anxious, emotive Rachel and reticent, depressive Bron. But the motif of transformation is threaded throughout the story of their family dynamics, and echoed in Lai’s fluid, blue-gray illustrations. Tension builds: Rachel’s sister (Nessie’s mom) isn’t fond of Bron, and Bron misses her estranged family but doesn’t know how to talk about her feelings. During a three-month separation, each looks to their family of origin for answers. Rachel describes Bron’s parents as “waspy Christian maniacs” who never came to terms with their daughter’s gender transition. Bron’s dad sees Rachel as “that angry Chinese girl.” Yet the women’s youthful us-against-the-world mentality is wearing thin: “All the structures we’d built together suddenly felt unbearably fragile,” Rachel observes. Lai’s cinematic juxtapositions and dreamlike fugues give visual structure to a breakup story that’s heavy on processing, sharpening its edges. Lai also skillfully captures the ways family dynamics and histories play out in romantic relationships, and how heavy those legacies can land. The result is a poignant and mature rumination on how people change, and change each other, proving Lai a talent well worth watching. (May)