In THE BEAUTY by Aliya Whiteley, each night, Nate tells the men gathered around the campfire of their community, members of humanity’s final generation, about life before a fungal plague claimed all women on the planet. Strange mushrooms are growing in the graveyard where they buried their women, suggesting a presence that eventually manifests and offers comfort in exchange for love. Happy with this gift, Nate tells the men the human race can continue, but it must change, and so must they. Some, particularly the young, embrace the change, while the rest fight to the death.
What a strange little story this turned out to be, featuring elements such as golems made from the dead, violence, body horror, and inter-species sex. The style is ethereal, almost Biblical in the telling, though presenting a story as more a fable than grounded in reality had the effect of engaging this reader’s brain more than his gut. As the relationship between the men and their new companions develops, things just get weirder. I thought thematically the novel would had have something to say about gender, but while the story seems to suggest a philosophy, it never really becomes apparent, and if it did, it sailed over my head. The story is freaky and it just is, offered without explanation or apparent theme. Which is all fine, as it was a fun read.
My only real complaint was it ends abruptly. In the edition I purchased, the story simply ended, and I was presented with a “bonus story,” which takes up half the book. I ended up feeling a little robbed, though this isn’t a complaint against the story but the publisher, which could have simply said the book was a collection of two novellas/short stories.