... this new fantasy novella has both the brightness and the incipient gloom of autumn ... Valente seems in love with language itself (her style reminds me a bit of Alice Hoffman’s, which is high praise indeed). But the gorgeous writing is edged with social satire and spliced with horror: bone and flesh and gore. She unpeels the layers gradually, as one would a piece of fruit (each chapter heading is a different kind of apple), hinting at the dark core of her tale until it emerges into full, unsparing light ... 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.
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.
Valente truly embraces mysteries—not just that of the story she’s telling, but also in the genre she’s playing in and what puzzle box she’s giving to her readers. While this may seem like a domestic mystery from the outside, once you start turning pages, more and more trappings fall away as the true shape of this tale is revealed ... it won’t take you long to read, but it’s effect on you is going to last for a very long time. For this isn’t just a book of mystery: it is also a horror story, through and through ... Page by page, uneasiness followed by embarrassment, a pivot into gut-deep fear, it’s almost enough to make a reader queasy, the constant ups and downs ... Valente hammers readers with uncertainty as we see moment by moment the effects of aggressive gaslighting and tender manipulation, even as her prose shines, describing this perfect world built for Sophia ... it is a bittersweet mystery you’ll savor every bite of, no matter how hard it is to swallow.