Tordotcom: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Composite Creatures

Poet Caroline Hardaker's eerie debut novel, Composite Creatures, follows a newly engaged couple who sign their lives away to an exclusive corporation for a chance at an artificially extended existence. In a noxious near future polluted with chemicals, where natural life is undergoing a slow, painful death, Norah and Art employ the services of Easton Grove, a private healthcare company that caters to the wealthy, prolonging, protecting and controlling its clients' lives. As part of the program, the couple are given an ovum organi, a living creature of indeterminate origin and deliberately vague appearance, that lives in their loft, adopting their habits and growing into something almost-human. Norah's attachment to this creature, which she nicknames Nut, becomes problematic, as she questions the program's morality, her relationship and her ability to save herself at the expense of another.

Hardaker (Little Quakes Every Day) uses sparse, precise language to craft a chilling atmosphere. Part atmospheric horror story, part science fiction, Composite Creatures is perfectly tense. As the plot crystalizes, and Nut's horrifying role begins to take shape, the brilliantly planned twists unspool; Hardaker's creative vision shines. Many of this world's secrets are left unclear: Hardaker declines to spell out what forces are shaping her world, how long the underprivileged have left, exactly how Nut is formed. And it is this refusal to explain that makes the novel so spellbinding--the room Hardaker leaves for the reader's imagination to take over. The story's slow, enigmatic unfolding is well worth the wait. --Simone Woronoff, freelance writer and reviewer