“The Beauty” by Aliya Whiteley

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“The Beauty”

by Aliya Whiteley

(Unsung Stories, September 2014)


Reviewed by Charles Payseur

Aliya Whiteley crafts a rather disturbing and lyric story of a small commune of men surviving a world where women have all died out in “The Beauty.” After a sort of fungus disease wipes out the female population, the inhabitants of the Group, a small commune dedicated to sustainable living, try and press on as they can. Nate, the storyteller of the Group, tries to keep the loneliness at bay by telling elaborate tales of the past, tweaking things to fit the present circumstances. It is also Nate who first discovers strange mushrooms growing over the graves of the dead women, and who is the first taken by the mushroom-like creatures who form from them. At first completely repulsed by these creatures, slowly Nate comes to form a bond with one, to find her beautiful. Because the creatures are female to Nate, are the dead women returned, a new hope for the Group? Not everyone is so keen on joining with these creatures, though, these Beauty, as Nate names them. Things go wrong, and things change, and Nate struggles with what it means to tell stories, and what it means to be a man, and what he should do. The story itself is definitely weird, and unsettling, as the younger generation of the Group strives to understand their gender and place without women present, and the older generation strives to impose their values forward. That’s to say nothing of the Beauty, which are strange and unsettling in their own right, creatures of intelligence but not humanity. A lot happens here, and the character work is solid and moving. There’s just an awful lot to take in, and digest, and this is not what I would call a fun story. Challenging, yes. Rewarding, yes. Worth a read, most assuredly. But it’s a little overwhelming to take all at once. The prose is dense and the ending was a bit more vague than I would have liked. Still, this is an interesting story that manages to piece together nicely.

[Editor’s Note: This is the first of two reviews of “The Beauty.” The second review by Chuck Rothman appears here.]

Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of pets in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming at Perihelion Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @ClowderofTwo