Whiteley’s latest pits the repression of the patriarchy against the power of the environment.
In a brisk 208 pages, Whiteley (The Arrival of Missives, 2016, etc.) spins the tale of Nathan, the resident bard of a post-apocalyptic tribe afflicted by a bacterial disease that has taken the lives of its women. Overwhelmed by the notion that they are the last generation of humans on Earth, the men of the tribe grow despondent. That is, until the women they've lost return, reincarnated as “walking mushrooms” who invert the gender dynamics of the heterosexual relationships the men of the tribe profess to miss so much. As these dynamics become increasingly graphic and extreme, so do the tensions between the men, some of whom view their new lovers as saviors while others consider them captors. Teeming with the spirit of feminist speculative trailblazers like Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joanna Russ, Whiteley’s original, gut-wrenching tale renders a world that exists somewhere between post-apocalyptic and fable-esque. Her characters are as multidimensional, nuanced, and somber as her writing, which soaks the reader like a hot bath, and the novel’s clever premise surprises as it evolves in an unforgettably grotesque yet thematically justified fashion, despite at times feeling slightly didactic. In short, Whiteley lives up to her various accolades (Guardian Short Story Award finalist, Shirley Jackson award nominee, etc.) with her sixth book-length effort, which channels the eerie spirit of Kelly Link and the environmental surrealism of Jeff VanderMeer.
A murky delirium of sinuous language and unnerving storytelling that will delight both experienced genre fanatics and literary fiction lovers alike.