Lee Lai, 236 pgs, Fantagraphics Books, fantagraphics.com, $24.99
Sometimes our loved ones cannot save us, and sometimes we cannot save them.
Lee Lai’s Stone Fruit is a graphic novel featuring Ray and Bron, two queer characters helping to care for Ray’s niece, Nessie, who they love dearly. Ray and Bron work through their relationship with each other and themselves by attempting to reconnect with family and rebuild broken bonds with their respective siblings.
Lai’s art style tells an amazing story on its own. The two worlds within Stone Fruit are represented by the shifting styles the characters are drawn in. The first has animalistic forms, drawn with wild and flowing movement representing the imaginative world of Nessie’s childhood, contrasting with the consistent and sober style showing the characters as regular human adults.
Lai writes complex, three-dimensional characters where no one is “good” or “bad.” She compellingly shows how being overly dependent in relationships can become suffocating through Ray and Bron’s struggle to communicate with each other.
Stone Fruit explores how people grapple to stay together once they’ve reached the goal of escaping an initial negative environment. People bond through the goal of surviving trauma together but don’t necessarily heal, which is shown through Bron’s character and her fraying mental health. People often become insecure when they cannot relate to the problems their loved ones face, as in Bron’s comment about Ray’s need to “fix” her: “She was just so hell-bent on being the reason, in some way, that I got better.”
Stone Fruit is a slower-paced story, which I enjoyed, though it may be harder for those with less patience. The story is poetic in both its visual and literary forms, and a great read overall.