cover image Fruiting Bodies: Stories

Fruiting Bodies: Stories

Kathryn Harlan. Norton, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-324-02122-3

In Harlan’s enticing debut collection, primarily queer, female characters encounter surreal and fantastical situations. In the title story, the protagonist’s lover becomes mysteriously mycological, sprouting various types of mushrooms the partners can cook and enjoy—or use to poison an unwitting, uninvited guest. In the tense “The Changeling,” two cousins kidnap the main character’s aunt’s hard-won “miracle baby,” fearing he is a demonic doppelgänger. “Endangered Animals” involves a road trip with two young women who share ambiguous and unpredictable feelings for each other. The story is set against a backdrop of the effects of climate change, and it offers a surprising twist. In another standout, “Is This You?,” Maura is visited by versions of her former selves at various ages as her mother writes about Maura’s life, including a period of self-harm during Maura’s adolescence. Harlan’s prose is beautiful and vivid, and each story has elements of beauty and horror, evocative of, as the narrator of “Algal Bloom” puts it, “nothing I had words for, like the end of the world.” As that story’s protagonist defies the warnings against swimming in a potentially lethal pond, Harlan captures the essence of the collection: much splendor and quite a bit of squirm. This is well worth diving into. (June)