New from Fantagraphics this month is Stone Fruit – a highly articulate graphic novel examining the connection between three women and a child that helps keep them together. Bron and Ray are a queer couple who enjoy their role as the fun weirdo aunties to Ray’s niece, six-year-old Nessie. Their playdates are little oases of wildness, joy, and ease in all three of their lives, which ping-pong between familial tensions and deep-seeded personal stumbling blocks. As their emotional intimacy erodes, Ray and Bron isolate from each other and attempt to repair their broken family ties — Ray with her overworked, resentful single-mother sister and Bron with her religious teenage sister who doesn’t fully grasp the complexities of gender identity. Taking a leap of faith, each opens up and learns they have more in common with their siblings than they ever knew.
Fantagraphics have had some highly impressive debuts in recent years with the likes of Emil Ferris’ My Favourite Thing is Monsters and Ed Luce’s Lovable Oaf being particular standouts, with their work pushing the boundaries on art and narrative styles. Lee Lai is the latest creator to make her debut, and she also has a refreshing style that will immediately capture your attention. Stone Fruit is a deeply personal comic that despite the supernatural imagery you are greeted with in the opening pages is one of the most honest things you’ll have read.
The relationships examined are complex and impact all the character involved. Bron and Ray is a classic case of a couple who have drifted apart. Their only joy seems to come from looking after Nessie where their life transforms into an exciting adventure with Lai’s art depicting them becoming almost frog like creatures having fun in the wild. But when reality comes knocking in the form of Nessie’s mother calling or when they realise the intimacy is disappearing from their relationship, they slowly shift to their normal forms. Not only is it a clever illustrative technique, but it also enhances the emotional distance between Bron and Ray – further aided by the muted blue and grey colour tones Lai uses.
The dysfunctional relationships extend beyond Bron and Ray, with both after separating attempting to find peace with their respected families. In Ray’s case, she tries to mend the fences with her sister/Nessie’s mother Amanda who is struggling after going through a bitter divorce and has always disapproved on Bron. Meanwhile, Bron attempt to reconnect with her religious family in the hopes of them moving past her sexuality, but this proves to be difficult with her parents both refusing to open up to her, and her sister harbouring some resentment at her departure. All these relationships have a degree of authenticity that makes the story even more appealing.
Stone Fruit is a very strong debut that showcases both Lai’s imaginative art style and realistic storytelling. This is a definitely a talent to keep watching.
Stone Fruit is out now from Fantagraphics
(9781683964261, h/b, £20.99)
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