The Marigold by Andrew F. Sullivan, a Horror Book Review by Justin Allec
Mycological horror is pervasively thriving right now in both books and film. Recent examples I’ve enjoyed are HBO’s The Last of Us, that pool scene from Annihilation, Kingfisher’s What Moves the Dead, McCloud Chapman’s Ghost Eaters, Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, and I’d even add in that mushroom episode from the first season of Hannibal. Still reeling from a global pandemic and faced with self-inflicted ecological destruction, it’s no wonder that we believe the very fibers of the earth will resist domination and are plotting our destruction. Yup, malevolent fungus has become one of the new terrifying big bads.
Each of those works I’ve mentioned uses fungus in a different way, but I haven’t come across an example as nihilistically volatile, as paranoid, as linguistically slippery as what Andrew F. Sullivan images in his second novel The Marigold:
“Naming the thing is supposed to control it, right? What it does is change. Constantly.”
Dubbed ‘the Wet’ in his book, Sullivan’s version of fungus is like if Society’s shunting scenes were distilled and weaponized for use on the plebs and dregs of an uncaring Toronto. Birthed from the last grasping squeeze of terminal capitalism and pop culture debris, this fungus is active, insidious, and independent of the dispassionate 0.01% who want to understand it and wield it for their own corporate benefit.
As Canada’s biggest city—like every big city everywhere—everyone who spends time in Toronto has a love/hate relationship with the place. It’s big, it’s busy, it’s full of fun things, but there’s also much to dislike about the endless sprawl, the sucking humidity, and the obvious disparity between wealth and squalor. Sullivan satirically pushes his residents of Hogtown to grapple with a city intent on burying them alive in debt, surveillance, and apathy. No one, be they a resident of the titular Marigold or struggling on the margins, is safe. Violence is less of a threat than a byproduct of purposeful civic neglect and lazy corruption. People who teeter on the edge of the gig economy, who attempt to maintain some higher standard of public health and concern, or are just looking for a good time, are all consumed. And that’s before the fungus starts to creep up out of fractured foundations in a hell-bent push for assimilation.
High above the uncaring streets stands The Marigold, the titular sky-high condominium, and the near-abandoned sinkhole of a matching twin tower. These private spaces provide the backdrop for developer Stan Marigold to attempt to bend reality to his legacy, while on the ground (and below it) characters search for the origin of the disease and the futility of a cure. From the Marigold’s penthouse to nightmarish subterranean caverns, Sullivan’s writing etches like a laser as it traces their journeys through the urban decay with equal parts cynicism and sympathy.
Can a book be moist? I mean, The Marigold’s pages are dry paper, obviously, but this story is positively dripping with moisture. It leaves stains; it leaves puddles. It creeps. Read too much in one shot and you’ll be seeing the world through a Vaseline-smeared lens. Wickedly funny, nihilistically hopeful, The Marigold is a body-horror ecological disaster that submerges a whole city for the crime of a few residents asking for a better quality of life.
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The Marigold by Andrew F. Sullivan
The Marigold, a gleaming Toronto condo tower, sits a half-empty promise: a stack of scuffed rental suites and undelivered amenities that crumbles around its residents as a mysterious sludge spreads slowly through it. Public health inspector Cathy Jin investigates this toxic mold as it infests the city’s infrastructure, rotting it from within, while Sam ‘Soda’ Dalipagic stumbles on a dangerous cache of data while cruising the streets in his Camry, waiting for his next rideshare alert. On the outskirts of downtown, 13-year-old Henrietta Brakes chases a friend deep underground after he’s snatched into a sinkhole by a creature from below. All the while, construction of the city’s newest luxury tower, Marigold II, has stalled. Stanley Marigold, the struggling son of the legendary developer behind this project, decides he must tap into a hidden reserve of old power to make his dream a reality – one with a human cost. Weaving together disparate storylines and tapping into the realms of body horror, urban dystopia, and ecofiction, The Marigold explores the precarity of community and the fragile designs that bind us together.