Strange Horizons, October 5, 2020
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
This issue of Strange Horizons brings to the table a rather unsettling piece of romantic body horror. While that description may sound somewhat contradictory, I’m really not certain how else to categorize it. Author J.L. Akagi has left me at a bit of a loss for words with her new story “Scallop.”
In it, we are introduced to our nameless narrator, a woman who works in an office and has suddenly begun sprouting eyes all over her body, much like those of a scallop. She’s not the only one, either. It’s apparently become a rather commonplace occurrence, as she discusses other people’s transformations, like that of her former co-worker Brenda, who has turned into a tree. Our narrator tries to hide these problematic additions to her person, but as time goes on, it becomes increasingly harder to do so. After all, what will people think if she suddenly becomes a scallop?
While the transformation that the narrator goes through is certainly horrific (thus the horror element), the themes of love and acceptance act as a counterbalance to the troubling changes she’s undergoing, softening what might otherwise make readers a bit too squeamish. Not only does she have to come to terms with herself, both as she was and what she’s becoming, but also in the relationship she has with her girlfriend. It’s a sweet, if creepy, story—very apropos for kicking off the month of October!