The fruiting bodies in this collection are at once figurative and disturbingly literal...In the title story, the narrator forages mushrooms off the body of her lover, Agnes ('in the valley of skin between her breasts, a miniature grove of enokis was sprouting'; 'her chest will sometimes grow truffles')...Together they eat them for sustenance, 'over rice with vegetables and a hint of balsamic'...Harlan’s narrators, mostly queer women, are fascinated, even obsessed with bodies — those of their lovers, mothers, fetuses — and their regeneration, death, even consumption...Nibbling one’s cuticles is described as 'autocannibalistic,' pregnancy a 'tumor'...'Parasitoid wasps,' one narrator points out, lay their eggs in caterpillars; they 'deposit their larvae beneath the host’s skin'...Pubescent girls submerge themselves in a lake poisoned with algal bloom...The story 'Is This You?' raises the stakes from the intimate to the existential...When Maura’s mother publishes a nonfiction book about her daughter’s life, Maura goes into a kind of narrative tailspin in an effort to reclaim her own story...She imagines a 'litany of selves' at various ages...As though speaking to all of the women in this collection, one of the Mauras asks the narrator: 'Are you sure your version is the right version?'
These coming-of-age stories about young women are sometimes set against a backdrop of climate change, sometimes in altered magical worlds...Because we live in an age in which rising temperatures and raging wildfires, significant loss of biodiversity, and monster storms worry the line between what used to seem impossible and our new reality, this mix of genres is potent...Harlan crafts gorgeous prose; in her hands, even the dirty work of maggots, using 'their hooked mouths to spoon up the body’s liquids,' becomes something beautiful...Her stories twist away from expected endings—as in 'Hunting the Viper-King,' in which the narrator’s father’s hunt for a mythical snake both is and isn’t as crazy as it seems—and offer nuanced emotional insights...A few stories miss the mark when the magic fails to become emotionally resonant ('Is This You?') or the characters feel thin, like ideas in service to inventive plots ('Fiddler, Fool Pair')...A debut collection that mingles and uncanny with signs of global warming...Original, deftly told stories that chart coming-of-age in perilous times for our planet.
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...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.