Fruit Rot is a captivating modern-day fable. It weaves aspects of pop-culture and allegory into a story that delves into the deepest understanding of human nature. Gapinski’s narrative gives readers a look at the beauty and ugliness that resides in humanity, illuminating what we become when faced with the harsh life and death choices.
“Fruit Rot is strange, in the best way. This macabre tale offers a brilliant contemporary fable set in a world at once fantastical and too familiar. Using sharp prose and a freshly eccentric voice, Gapinski skillfully illuminates the deep places where pain, fear and injustice live. It’s a darkly funny and imaginative story.”
—Emily Koon, author of We Are Still Here
“Fruit Rot is a satire that complicates its subject rather than parodies it; a fable that shuns moralistic conclusions; a rumination on the hexed miracle of finally getting what you want. It’s humor and pop culture and allegory. It’s so many things wrapped in a tight, delightful package. Throughout, James R. Gapinski shows us one thing most of all: the many shapes villainy can take.”
—Zach Powers, author of First Cosmic Velocity
“Gapinski’s talent for making readers uncomfortable while simultaneously offering sacraments of beautiful prose isn’t what makes his writing stand out. Revelations, speculations, and necessary fears are faced in this all-too-realistic story that hits home in a town facing a plague while our world is left to grapple with our own. What maintains the language, heartbreak, and hard life and death choices in Fruit Rot is everything we hide, bury in the backyard, and keep secret for generations. Gapinski has a natural ability to unveil the hidden darkness in life’s inescapable choices with gentleness and care, and in the end, all we have left is one final choice. What will it be? Like the struggle for survival, death is portrayed as an intimate drawing of life’s beauty as well as ugliness, a portrait you will feel consumed with, wanting more and more.”
—Hillary Leftwich, author of Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock
Interview with the Author
EP: What was the inspiration for this story?
JRG: At the time, I was reading a lot of work from Karen Russell, Aimee Bender, and Kate Bernheimer. Their work is inspiring, and I love how these writers work with fables and fairy tales—both directly and indirectly. I was writing several short pieces. Fruit Rot stuck around and grew. It felt more like a fable with my own stamp on it. With an interwoven comic book motif, I found a more personalized avenue into the story.
EP: How long have you been working on Fruit Rot? Did it evolve over time or did you have a clear idea of the piece from beginning to end?
JRG: I’ve been working on this a while, and it has evolved. When I said I was reading Karen Russell, I mean Vampires in the Lemon Grove had just come out. So the first couple drafts of Fruit Rot were in 2013 or 2014. But I let the manuscript lay dormant a while. I wrote a draft, took it as far as I could at the time, and set it aside to work on other pieces. I revisited Fruit Rot recently and made updates and revisions. There’s more energy around comic books these days—with the runaway success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—and it felt like a good time to pick up Fruit Rot again.
EP: How does pop culture influence your work, especially in Fruit Rot?
JRG: Fruit Rot feels like a classic fable or fairy tale, but it’s also packed full of comic book references. To me, comics are the perfect example of a pop culture artifact since they merge narrative, visual art, fandom, and a dose of the campiness we’ve embraced in an era of influencers and reality TV. I’m interested in how those things shape our lives. Plus, comics simultaneously play off these epic ideas of heroism and villainy which becomes fantastic fodder for any story.
EP: What do you want readers to take away from reading Fruit Rot?
JRG: Curiosity—that’s a good takeaway for most of my work. I hope readers will be curious and interested to explore the premise. I hope they will think about the strange narrative of Fruit Rot after the final page. If I had to settle on something less abstract, I’d say it’s a classic rags-to-riches allegory mixed with an exploration into the dark recesses of human nature.