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Fruit of the Dead


Fruit of the Dead

You probably remember the Greek myth of Persephone. Having been abducted by Hades and made queen of the underworld, Persephone makes the mistake of eating pomegranate seeds and consequently is compelled to return to the underworld for several months each year. During that time, Persephone's mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, is in mourning. The earth mourns along with her, causing winter to return.

On one level, this story is a nature myth, explaining the changing of the seasons in an imaginative and evocative way. It's also about the power imbalances between men and women, particularly when one of those men is the almighty god of the underworld and the other is a young woman whose relative power resides only in her physical allure. That's the element of the story that Rachel Lyon uses as the jumping-off point for FRUIT OF THE DEAD, her contemporary reimagining of the Persephone and Demeter myth.

"It's perhaps too easy to call FRUIT OF THE DEAD hypnotic, given the effects of the drug that ensnares Cory. But it does pull readers out of time and immerse them in a story that feels both ages old and entirely new."

In Lyon's novel, the Persephone character is named Cory (a nod to Persephone's other name in Greek mythology, "Kore," or "the maiden"). When readers first meet her, she's wrapping up a summer of camp counseling without a clear idea of what to do next. She hasn't gotten into college, and going to work for her mother Emer's agricultural NGO is not exactly appealing. Cory does have a special bond with one of the campers, a quiet little boy named Spenser. When, on the last day of camp, Spenser's dad, Rolo Picazo, sees how well Cory cares for his son and how easily she attracts the admiration of Spenser's younger sister Fern, he offers Cory an alternative.

Recently divorced, Picazo has custody of both children for the next few months while their mother cares for the newborn she's had with her new husband. Picazo is a wealthy businessman whose professional life is about to get even more complicated. He could really use some help with childcare so that he can deal with the various legal challenges facing his pharmaceutical company. When he offers Cory the opportunity to spend this time on his private island off the coast of Maine, she barely hesitates before accepting.

Cory finds Picazo oddly alluring, if not conventionally handsome. It also doesn't hurt that he's so wealthy and seems to genuinely find her fascinating. When she arrives at the island, she discovers some vaguely ominous signs, hints that she might have gotten in over her head. But when Picazo introduces her to his company's signature drug, Granadone, she ceases to care, losing track of her priorities, her purpose and even her sense of time itself.

Third-person accounts of Cory's strange new life with Picazo alternate with first-person chapters from the perspective of Emer. In the face of shaky product test results and mounting concern for Cory, she takes off to find her daughter, at immense professional risk to herself. In part, Emer's impulsive actions are prompted by the present situation, but they're also an opportunity of sorts to reconcile a past betrayal, a time when she deeply disappointed Cory and damaged their relationship as a result.

Those who are familiar with the original myth will find plenty of little Easter eggs to appreciate here. Picazo's three dogs, for example, are cloned versions of a single dog, making a sort of genetically engineered Cerberus. But this is far more than a clever retelling; it's also a thoroughly contemporary novel about the lure of narcotics, a powerful mother-daughter story about the lengths a mother will travel in order to save her most precious relationship, and a devastating indictment of power and risk imbalances between older, wealthy men and much younger women.

It's perhaps too easy to call FRUIT OF THE DEAD hypnotic, given the effects of the drug that ensnares Cory. But it does pull readers out of time and immerse them in a story that feels both ages old and entirely new.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 29, 2024

Fruit of the Dead
by Rachel Lyon

  • Publication Date: March 5, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1668020858
  • ISBN-13: 9781668020852