The global novel exists, not as a genre separated from and opposed to other kinds of fiction, but as a perspective that governs the interpretation of experience. In this way, it is faithful to the way the global is actually lived—not through the abolition of place, but as a theme by which place is mediated. Life lived here is experienced in its profound and often unsettling connections with life lived elsewhere, and everywhere. The local gains dignity, and significance, insofar as it can be seen as a part of a worldwide phenomenon.
-Adam Kirsch, The Global Novel: Writing the World in the 21st Century
About the Book
This month we head virtually to near-future Toronto as we discuss Andrew F. Sullivan’s The Marigold (ECW Press, 2023). 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.
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.
Chat with the Author
Mary: You’ve written, or are writing, a few novels. Tell us about your experience as a writer so far and what got you into it.
Andrew: Writing started when I was young, rewriting Jurassic Park at school to kill off my friends (often with notes provided by them about how they wanted to go out) or trying to outdo the feast descriptions in a Redwall novel. I didn’t even know what a scone was really at the time, but it didn’t stop me. Obviously, you grow and evolve with time. My fiction is often described as “bleak” or “like watching a train crash.” My obsession comes down to the past—how we can’t undo it, how we can’t run from it, how it continues to exist even after we are gone. The idea of a reckoning is probably central to most of my books, the idea of consequences, a feeling of inevitability. Horror is often about depicting the tail end of an action, the part no one wants to look at, the aftermath dripping all over the tile floor.
By the end of this year, I’ll have four books out but many more manuscripts hiding in a drawer somewhere. Writing is generally a series of small humiliations, a collection of gestures toward something like truth, an attempt to reckon with your place in the world and how you see it before your time is up. I feel lucky to have found an art form that suits me, but it’s good to remember it’s all ephemeral. You make the work and then move forward. Eventually, only the work remains. But then that disappears too. It’s an attempt not to be forgotten, but like any action, it’s only a temporary thing. There is joy in making something and sharing it with people and hoping it resonates. And that’s the most you can ask for when it comes to making art, I think. A series of resonances spreading out behind you, a wake that catches someone’s attention if only for a minute before the water stills again.
Mary: Your novel, The Marigold, fits into this site’s theme of ecofiction, but it’s also a unique story with other elements such as dystopia and body horror. Can you explain to readers what is going on?
Andrew: The Marigold is basically my take on the modern city with every dial turned all the way to eleven. It’s an over-the-top, grimy version of Toronto with a sickly grin. There is no single protagonist for the novel, and even the four “leads” are all there to provide alternating perspectives on the Wet, my black mold fungus running havoc through the city’s infrastructure. If there is a protagonist at all, it is the Wet itself. The city maybe plays a close second. It is a novel about the precarity of community, the empty spaces between people who live alongside each other.
I specifically did not want to have a heroic protagonist solving the “mystery” of the book or what everything means. The reader is learning about this city and its sickness through the characters. This is not a hero’s journey. This is not a mystery to be solved. There isn’t an out for the reader. You will find no absolution. It’s a descent into the moldy depths and I’m your tour guide. Bodies are being transformed and my characters are confronting how the world can betray you. The places you believe you are safest (in your home, in your body) aren’t actually safe at all. They can fail you. It goes back to that sense of reckoning—the past returning to claim what it is owed, to speak its dripping truth through something like a mouth, a voice rising up out of the mud, full of accusations.
Mary: Sounds novel, actually. What led you to write this particular story?
Andrew: I grew up in the shadow of Toronto, lived there for ten years, and can still see the CN Tower from where I live these days. Toronto is a metropolis, the core of Canada, but also a confused place, one that often refuses to admit it’s a city and pretends it can just exist as a series of neighbourhoods. It’s a place that tries to destroy any link to its past, a stand-in for other cities, often American ones. So I wanted to write about the place that had kept me in its orbit for so many years, the place that I had lived in for over a decade, from Bathurst and Finch to Cabbagetown to Morningside & Lawrence. I wanted to write about a place that was decaying in plain sight, a place still worshipping the car, a place that had barely prepared for the future of our climate catastrophe. And Toronto was the perfect place for that.
Mary: We’re both living in Canada, though in different places, and experienced wildfires this summer; we’ve had neighbors evacuated by fires one month and deaths via floods the next month. The damp seems to crawl into everything and reminds me of your story, where the Wet reflects the devastating climate (and rot) of capitalism, really. These two things, climate change and power, seem to be a couple united on a journey of destruction and I think a lot of us are feeling hopeless and somewhat helpless, if we’re not in denial. How do you think fiction is a good way to tell this story?
Andrew: The recent wildfires here have made the conditions of our climate collapse even more apparent. These disasters build off each other and often work in tandem with one another. We actually have very little control when confronted with the larger consequences of our actions. I think this question nails the thrust of the book and how I see these forces working together. Fiction for me offers a way to extrapolate these ideas, to play with them, to set forces in motion and observe how they might bounce off each other. A series of thought experiments where every outcome is a different breed of nightmare. I appreciate fiction’s ability to follow through on these questions so we don’t have to. Fiction is a place where we can embrace the darker possibilities of ourselves and our futures. It’s collaborating with the reader too, connecting us to build a vision together. We are complicit with each other, as we are with what is happening to our wider world. But we can close the book. We can walk away when we choose to do so. You can stop giving a book your attention. The world itself won’t care. We will keep cooking alive.
But I think there is room in the ruins for life. Rot is not pure entropy, it’s a repurposing and a rebuilding, in newer shapes we may not recognize beyond a foul smell. One of my favourite books during the research phase of The Marigold was The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. “Possibility” does so much work in that title, there are so many ways of living that we haven’t explored, ways of being that are not chained to our current capitalist structure. Fungi know this. Nature knows this. The Marigold is a story about a city trapped in that very capitalist structure, everyone chained to the wheel as the ship sinks, but there are other stories out there too. I just chose the possibility of watching it all sink in this novel.
Mary: Thank you for that recommendation. I have been a fan of the idea of fungi fiction for a while. I am not sure how you classify your novel, but the idea of this sentient spore-based monster taking over the city reminds me of an example of fungi fiction. Maybe. What are your thoughts?
Andrew: The Marigold falls into the category since mold is a fungus, but it’s definitely a different speed than some of the mushroom horror or “sporror” that you see out there. This is not The Last of Us or Mexican Gothic, which are both compelling stories on their own. Some slight spoilers for The Marigold, but I see the Wet, my own black mold, as an expression of every dead body that has leaked into its pool and joined its consciousness. The memory of a city and all the people within it. The Wet is desperately lonely, but also reshaped by every interaction it has. Fungi learn quickly. They are reactive. They are shaped by their experiences, much like people. The Wet continues to change shape and form as it discovers new ways of interacting with people. Some it takes by force, some by guile, some with kindness. It changes to meet the needs of its prey. But it also wants company. It wants people to join. It’s a symptom of the fatigue, the loneliness, and the emptiness found in the city, the lack of a true self, the need for community. The Wet invites you in to stay with it forever. There is no exit.
Mary: This is fascinating. Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Andrew: I am always working on something, right now I’ve got another novel coming out this August. I co-wrote The Handyman Method (Gallery Books / Saga Press, 2023, out now) with my good friend Nick Cutter. It’s a haunted house story about insecurity, home improvement gone awry, and algorithmic possession, one that I’m very proud to have brought into the world with my good friend. It’s a story about what happens when you surrender to your worst impulses, when you allow someone else to speak for you without thinking for yourself.
As for other projects, I’m excited to kick off work on some new novels when I can come up for air. There’s a big one about vampirism and state capture that I want to finish off sometime this year, and a whole series of dark fantasy about corrupt witch hunting that will need to get written someday. There are more books in me than I can ever write at this point, so it comes down to sitting down and getting the work done. I will try and get as many out there as I can… when they are ready. Sometimes you need to let a story cook a little longer, low and slow, until you know the time is right to serve it up.
Mary: These all look good, and I can’t wait to check them out. Thanks so much for your time and fantastic insights.
About the Author
Andrew F. Sullivan is the author of The Marigold (ECW Press), a novel about a city eating itself, and The Handyman Method (Gallery Books / Saga Press), a novel cowritten with Nick Cutter about home improvement gone wrong. Sullivan is also the author of the novel WASTE (Dzanc) and the short story collection All We Want is Everything (ARP), both named Globe & Mail Best Books of the Year. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.