Review | Comfort Me With Apples – Catherynne M. Valente

About the Book

Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It’s just that he’s away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband’s face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can’t quite meet her gaze…

But everything is perfect. Isn’t it?

112 pages (hardcover)
Published on November 9, 2021
Buy the book

Catherynne M. Valente is an auto-buy author for me. 

No, let me up the level of this a bit. 

Catherynne M. Valente is hugely informative to the way I write. I buy all of her books, pre-order, if I remember to, and then read and re-read them all year. I study her prose. I study the way she uses language and words, and how she tells her stories. The way she dishes out information, and clues like breadcrumbs for her readers to follow, and while I don’t try to emulate her, exactly, I do look at her as a guiding light for how I want to tell stories. I see what she has done, how widely she has veered from the expected fantasy path and how fantastically she’s flourished out there, carving her own way through this unique landscape of hers, and I use that as inspiration. 

In my opinion, she’s one of the best storytellers out there right now, full-stop.

So when I saw Comfort Me With Apples was coming out, I jumped on it. Her novellas, for whatever reason, hit me right where it counts. It’s amazing to see what she’s capable of with a shorter length book. In 112 pages, we have a book that was just as deep and fleshed out as any novel double or triple its size. Each word counts and is carefully put exactly where it needs to be. Each twist of the story is deftly orchestrated, the clues laid out in such a way that you don’t really see them until later, but that “ah ha” moment I so love is doubly intense due to it. 

Comfort Me With Apples is a book that you might not fully grasp right away. I started out reading this not really knowing what I was reading, but it’s Catherynne M. Valente, so I put my trust in the author and knew that, when the time was right, I’d figure it out. So, I sat back and I read. I just gave myself to the story. I watched events transpire through Sophia’s eyes and let her carry me away. Valente is an author you need to trust, because she works on numerous levels, both surface and deeper, and it usually isn’t until somewhere past the halfway point when I really see all the threads she’s working with, and how she’s binding them together. That’s half of what thrills me when I read her work. She trusts her reader to figure it out, and her readers trust her to lead them where they need to go. In the meantime, you get to sit back and enjoy some of the most spectacular writing you’ve ever read. 

Seriously, her prose drips with beauty. There were so many passages in this novella I highlighted. I think nearly half the book highlighted in my kindle, honestly. She has a way with taking these small moments so many of us wouldn’t notice and making them breathtakingly beautiful. There’s a part toward the start of the book, for example, where Sophia is dusting, and Valente describes how the dust motes catch the light and I just sat back in awe. It’s a tiny thing, something so many of us wouldn’t take the time to notice, much less write, and yet somehow she made it feel like a moment of pure artistry, not just through her description, but through Sophia as well. Not only was it beautiful, but it helped me understand how our protagonist sees the world. Tiny moments of breathtaking beauty, and small moments of unimaginable emotional pain sprinkled throughout. 

There’s a mystery at the core of this book, but it’s not exactly what I was expecting it to be, and it didn’t end how I expected it to end, either. In fact, for a novella, this one really packed a punch. When I started seeing how all those threads wove together, I honestly had to put the book down and just bask in the glory of it all. Valente paints a picture of this nearly perfect world, think Stepford Wives, and then slowly, carefully peels the layers away and as she does so, twists things just enough. These cracks in this perfect facade is where the story truly dwells. The feeling of wrongness, of everything being awkwardly off-kilter is pervasive, and creeping, almost like a certain understated dread. Sophia doesn’t understand it, and neither will the reader. Not for a while, at least. Then, we layer in the mystery and that growing sense of not-right becomes less creeping and more overt. By that point, things start happening, and the book becomes almost impossible to put down. 

There’s a lot of comparisons I could use for this novella to other fables and mythology and the like, and I’m afraid if I tell you what they are, it’ll give the book away and I really don’t want that. Suffice it to say, I think everyone will take something different from reading this. I will also say that it might not be the perfect fit for every reader. There’s a lot of twists and turns and a lot of them are subtle, a lot of reality fraying, and plenty of the book will leave you wondering what is happening. If you trust Valente as an author, you’ll understand, this is how she works. She’ll bring you through it, you just have to wait. You have to be patient for it all to unfold. On the other hand, not everyone likes to drink tea with a helping of what the fuck instead of sugar, so depending on which camp you fit into, this may or may not be your fit. 

I loved Comfort Me With Apples. I can already feel myself aching to re-read it so I can catch all the subtle clues I missed on my first read-through. I think it will likely take its place on my shelf next to Six-Gun Snow White as a book I re-read about once a year just so I can study how she uses words, and so carefully unfolds her story. Valente is one of those authors that I admire so much, not just for how she tells her stories, but for the substance of the stories she tells. This might be a novella, but there is a lot happening here, a lot to unpack, a lot of deep themes about personhood, and independence, about relationships and life itself, all written in a dreamy, almost fairytale way. 

If you’re looking for a quick-ish read that defiantly deviates from expected fantasy norms, this is your book. Valente is daring and bold, with a grasp for prose, characterization, and story that just wows me every time. She does things with narrative voice here that astounded me and left me reeling. The story itself was a delight, and I didn’t mind a bit that I had to figure things out as I went and wasn’t always completely sure what I was reading. That’s part of the delight of Valente’s work: the exploration, the quick turn off the well-trodden path into a place that blends pure artistry and genius storytelling. 

I could rave about how much I love Valente’s work for years. 

Suffice it to say, Comfort Me With Apples is exactly my kind of weird. It’s going to be a re-read for me. Over and over again. 

Just… wow. 

5/5 stars