The Marigold by Andrew F. Sullivan
In The Marigold, a mind-controlling fungus called The Wet takes over Toronto. If you’re too close to The Wet, you hear a voice in your head that encourages you to get even closer, luring you with the mantra, “No absence. Only presence.” This presence refers to the people previously consumed by The Wet, and who are now part of The Wet. In other words, The Wet transforms its victims into more of itself, akin to a vampire making more vampires.
But unlike vampires, The Wet is a single amorphous entity with a single collective mind, motivated solely by the desire to spread. Besides its hostile intentions, very little is known about it. This sense of mystery and impenetrability defines The Marigold, reinforced by the lack of a clear protagonist. Each chapter is told from a different point-of-view, and although some of these POVs are recurring, the link between them remains unclear until the end of the novel.
What I find most impressive about The Marigold is the way it manages to be compelling while leaving so much unexplained. One of the characters, Odie, is a perfect example of this. Odie is a wild animal that Dale, the father of a rideshare driver called Soda, decides to keep as a pet after it saves them from an assault. No one, not even Dale, knows what kind of animal Odie is: it could be a coyote, a raccoon, a wild dog, or something else. And because Odie can’t be classified as a particular animal, it can’t be said to fit in with our understanding of that animal.
Yet, Odie remains believable, exhibiting a variety of behaviours that broadly cohere with our expectations of how a wild animal might act: docile at times, allowing itself to be leashed and carried, but also extremely volatile, tearing up car seats, refusing to be leashed, and attacking everyone around it, including its “owner”.
In fact, as our understanding of Odie grows, its exact identity becomes increasingly less important. We are less concerned with finding out what Odie is and more interested in seeing what it does next, which implies that we take for granted Odie’s plausibility as a character. One reason for this is that Odie’s identity is the only thing that is vague about it; everything else is described in meticulous detail. We never get the impression that Odie’s vagueness is due to laziness on the part of the writer; rather, we are much more inclined to believe that Odie was created consciously and thoughtfully, its vagueness a part of its complexity.
Given the richness of the characterisation, I find the “Suite” chapters enjoyable. These are chapters that appear throughout The Marigold, each detailing the life of one tenant in the eponymous condo. Andrew F. Sullivan displays clear skill in crafting compelling characters in a limited space, not just in terms of the space of the chapter, but also the physical space of the tenant’s apartment.
I think the “Suite” chapters would have been even more effective if the tenants described in them played a larger role in the story. Once I realised that a character introduced in a “Suite” chapter would not reappear in a future chapter, I felt slightly impatient with the “Suite” chapters as a whole, which seemed to obstruct the “main” plot. Nonetheless, I found it satisfying to see a pattern emerge from the “Suite” chapters, and to have a general idea of what they would be about, just by reading their title.
Frequently evading understanding, The Marigold is a clever and unpredictable novel that I highly recommend.
The Marigold by Andrew F. Sullivan
In a near-future Toronto buffeted by environmental chaos and unfettered development, an unsettling new lifeform begins to grow beneath the surface, feeding off the past.
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.