Vern — seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised — flees for the shelter of the woods, hunted by something and developing her own supernatural powers.
Solomon’s outstanding third novel revisits the themes of memory and responsibility through two new lenses: horror and contemporary thriller ... This plot is the most accessible of Solomon’s work to date, but they use the deceptively simple story to delve deep into Vern’s struggle to forge her own identity without buckling under the weight of history ... Solomon often packs so much into each image that the result can be overwhelming. They display a maturing control of their craft, employing a breathtaking range of reference that will enable any reader, from horror geek to Derridean academic, to engage with this thrilling tale. This is a tour de force.
A Lambda Award–winning writer explores America’s dark history of brutalizing Black bodies in their latest work of speculative fiction ... There’s a lot going on here—perhaps too much. The novel starts out strong; the portion of the narrative in which Vern and her children are fending for themselves in the wilderness has the feel of folklore, and the idea that she is haunted by the experience of her ancestors is evocative. As Solomon moves further into the realms of science fiction, though, their voice loses much of its force ... The problem isn’t that the notion that Vern is part of a secret experiment conducted on Black people is implausible—Solomon references both the Tuskegee Study and the work of James Marion Sims, a 19th-century gynecologist who practiced new techniques on enslaved women. The problem is that the concept that drives the plot for half the novel is barely developed. With almost no evidence, Vern intuits that she is part of a shocking conspiracy, and, from that point, readers are supposed to take this as a given. Instead of building a compelling case, Solomon wrestles fantastic tropes into shapes that fit the frame they’ve created without effectively supporting it. The fictional universe Solomon constructs here is inadequate to the real-world issues they are exploring.