REVIEW: “The Spice Portrait” by J. M. Evenson

Review of J.M. Evenson, “The Spice Portrait”, Escape Pod 594: Listen and read online. Reviewed by Duke Kimball.

“They said my love for my daughter was excessive, that I made her weak by kissing her and singing in her ear at night.

They also said I killed her.”

With these opening lines, “The Spice Portrait” introduces the fear and self-doubt of every mother who has had her parenting corrected into a world of oppression and brutal scarcity. It is a visceral story of love and loss set in a sparse post-apocalypse, within a rigid society motivated almost entirely by lack. All the while the question looms: in a world in which only the strongest can survive, can there be room for a mother’s love to blossom? 

I like that Evenson shows us a section of this society with no direct masculine influence, (including merely oblique and ominous references,) and instead lets us live through the women of this future world. Naz and her mother endure backbreaking labor, petty squabbles, and ever-present hunger- only to face the greatest loss possible. I found the tale tempered with moments of incredible humanity and compassion throughout. The world is nuanced and effortlessly grounded, from the faith to the food to the daily chores- and while a difficult place, it was easy to find myself immersed in it. 

With resonant notes of Atwood and Le Guin, Evenson’s heart-wrenching story is one that is worth tasting.