Aliya Whitely,
The Beauty
(Unsung, 2014; Titan, 2017)

Trust me, you will not read a quirkier, odder, more fascinating, original and challenging book this year than The Beauty.

A quick plot summary will show you what I mean. In the near future, a disease of some sort has killed all of the women on earth. Only the men are left and they are slowly dying off. Unable to reproduce, they are doomed. A group of them has left the city and is living in the forest, in a place they call Valley of the Rocks. There Nate, a 23-year-old kid, gathers with the others around the fire at night and tells stories about the old days. His most popular story? The death of the women.

But then, an odd thing happens. Mushroom-like substances begin growing on the graves of the women. Soon, the mushrooms take a sort of feminine shape, somehow encompassing the bones of the women, and become alive. They take the men as lovers -- Nate calls them the Beauty -- and then things really get strange.

Not all of the men are happy with the situation as it has evolved; a sort of generational split occurs with the younger men welcoming the Beauty and the changes they bring with them, while the older men attempt to resist.

Be assured that nothing in this novel transpires the way you expect it to; in serving her vision, author Aliya Whitely does not take the anticipated steps in plotting, character development or anything else. Where you expect her to take one turn, she embarks on a dozen others, all of them in directions that will have you gasping, holding your breath and nodding your head in admiration. In The Beauty, Whitely has set herself an ambitious,wholly original task and pulled it off with skill and aplomb. This short book, more a novella than a full novel, is a myth, a fairy tale, a fantasy, a horror story and a study of gender identity.

It is also a hell of lot of fun to read and will live on in your mind for a long time after you finish it. Do yourself a favor; read The Beauty.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

22 July 2017

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