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Fruit of the Dead

A Novel


About The Book

An electric contemporary reimagining of the myth of Persephone and Demeter set over the course of one summer on a lush private island, about addiction and sex, family and independence, and who holds the power in a modern underworld.

Camp counselor Cory Ansel, eighteen and aimless, afraid to face her high-strung single mother in New York, is no longer sure where home is when the father of one of her campers offers an alternative. The CEO of a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company, Rolo Picazo is middle-aged, divorced, magnetic. He is also intoxicated by Cory. When Rolo proffers a childcare job (and an NDA), Cory quiets an internal warning and allows herself to be ferried to his private island. Plied with luxury and opiates manufactured by his company, she continues to tell herself she’s in charge. Her mother, Emer, head of a teetering agricultural NGO, senses otherwise. With her daughter seemingly vanished, Emer crosses land and sea to heed a cry for help she alone is convinced she hears.

Alternating between the two women’s perspectives, Rachel Lyon’s Fruit of the Dead incorporates its mythic inspiration with a light touch and devastating precision. The result is a tale that explores love, control, obliteration, and America’s own late capitalist mythos. Lyon’s reinvention of Persephone and Demeter’s story makes for a haunting and ecstatic novel that vibrates with lush abandon. Readers will not soon forget it.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for FRUIT OF THE DEAD includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Cory Ansel, fresh out of high school, working at a summer camp, isn’t sure what to do next. With no college or career prospects on the horizon, she dreads the idea of returning home to her disappointed mother, Emer, the head of an agricultural NGO. So, when one of her camper’s parents offers her a lucrative job babysitting his kids on a private island (all she needs to do is sign an NDA), she takes the opportunity, albeit with some trepidation. The man is the CEO of a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company under fire for its role in a national crisis of addiction, but Cory doesn’t know that. All she knows is that he is mysterious, wealthy, and deeply interested in her. When Cory drops out of touch, Emer can’t help but feel that something is wrong. She sidelines her career to rescue her daughter and hunt down the man responsible for her disappearance, at all costs.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Fruit of the Dead reimagines the myth of Persephone, goddess of spring, and Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Discuss the parallels between the novel and the original myth as well as the differences. Did you notice other references to Greek mythology in the novel?

2. The narration alternates between the close third-person perspective, with Cory’s narrative, and the first-person voice of her mother, Emer. How does this perspective-swapping affect your understanding of the story? Of the two key characters?

3. There is a beautiful poetic quality to the chapter titles. Discuss how they add to your interpretation of what happens within those sections. Are there hidden meanings to glean?

4. The novel opens with a summer camp performance of The Wizard of Oz. Discuss the author’s choice to open the book with this popular cultural reference. How does this set the scene for what’s to come?

5. Early on, Cory advises her charge Spenser that “sometimes it’s good to do what scares you,” which he parrots back to her when his father invites her to dinner. What do you make of this advice? How does this suggestion play out in the novel?

6. How does Cory’s impression of Rolo fluctuate in her interactions with him? She often views him with a mix of desire and disgust. What do you make of this combination? Does it seem one instinct is truer in her than the other?

7. When Rolo offers Cory a taste of the drug Granadone for the first time, he says to her, “Your choice, of course. Up to you, always” (page 80). Think about the choices Cory makes and discuss the freedom of decision-making in the novel, or the lack thereof.

8. Though Cory is a legal adult at eighteen years old, we are often reminded of her youthfulness and naiveté. How does the author demonstrate this push and pull between childhood and adulthood? What is your perspective on Cory’s level of maturity?

9. Motherhood is an essential theme in Fruit of the Dead. At one point, Emer notes that her “fear has always been a precondition of [Cory’s] life” (page 161). What kind of mother is Emer? Did you find her actions relatable?

10. As Cory takes increasing amounts of Granadone, she begins to lose sense of time, leaving her “suspended in a kind of eternal present” (page 198). How does the author communicate this sense of timelessness and disorientation?

11. Cricket, Rolo’s beautiful ex-wife, enters the scene in the second half of the novel. How does her presence affect the relationship between Cory and Rolo? What truths does she help bring to the surface?

12. Both Emer’s and Rolo’s professional lives are under fire due to issues with their companies’ products—“one severely blighted, the other dangerously profuse” (page 291). Compare and contrast the way that these characters handle their respective work crises. How does this parallel contribute to your understanding of these characters?

13. Consider the following statements as you discuss the final passage of the book: “The end is for parables and fairy tales. The end is no realer than a lullaby” (page 300).

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The author references several well-known tales besides the myth of Persephone. Consider watching or reading these works and talk about how they relate to Fruit of the Dead.

2. While on Rolo’s island, Cory has no access to the outside world. Unplug for a weekend and ruminate on the experience. Is it unsettling? Is it freeing?

3. Read Rachel Lyon’s first novel, Self-Portrait with Boy, and discuss any overlapping themes—freedom and betrayal, motherhood and loss, ambition and integrity—it shares with Fruit of the Dead.

About The Author

Photograph by Pieter M. van Hattem

Rachel Lyon is the author of Fruit of the Dead and Self-Portrait with Boy, a finalist for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. An editor emerita for Epiphany, she has taught creative writing at the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, Bennington College, and other institutions. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and two young children. Visit  

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (March 5, 2024)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668020852

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Raves and Reviews

"Alternating between the perspective of mother and daughter, we can indulge in the full thrill of being young, reckless, and newly independent—and the full propulsive terror of being older and knowing better. Though Lyon pulls the bones of the story from ancient mythology, the book’s characters are intensely—at times achingly—human and its plot is urgently contemporary." Oprah Daily

"Twisty and unsettling." —People

"A mesmerizing, fantastic retelling of an ancient myth." Town and Country

“Superb... refreshing... Lyon twists the tale just enough to needle our conceptions of coercion and desire." —New York Times Book Review

"Gorgeous prose that’s so vivid and luminous it contrasts starkly with the darkness of the subject matter. Every sentence is a feast." —

“A Greek myth retelling! Wonders—and risks—abound.” —Elle

“A mesmerizing, fantastic retelling of an ancient myth.” —Town & Country

“Epic… Greek mythology enthusiasts will especially fall for this modern retelling of the myth of Persephone and Demeter.” —Lilith Magazine

“Riveting and lush…a spellbinding account of a young woman’s hunger for freedom, the sordid underbelly of big pharma, and the siren call of addiction.” —Leslie Jamison

"In lush, hallucinatory prose, Lyon narrates from the perspectives of both mother and daughter and evokes the classic myth without distracting readers from the striking contemporary setting and subject matter." Booklist, Starred Review

"Irresistible... brilliantly told... an affecting, engrossing, and resonant tale about lost innocence and the enduring bond between a mother and daughter.” Publisher's Weekly, Starred Review

"Lyon’s skillful and luscious prose encourages empathy... an affecting novel with touches of the fantastical, weaving explorations of power, youth, wealth, and familial love." Kirkus, Starred Review

"A gripping literary thriller, Fruit of the Dead presents a coming-of-age tale that is so well-observed and intoxicating that the reader will lose track of time, but won't forget how they spent it. Jennifer Egan and Emma Cline fans: assemble." —Caoilinn Hughes, author of The Wild Laughter

"Mesmerized and profoundly alarmed, I read this in one go; I’ve been haunted by it ever since. I’ve passionately loved Lyon’s writing for years, and Fruit of the Dead further confirms what I’ve long suspected: I want to lunge to read anything she writes." —R. O. Kwon, author of Exhibit and The Incendiaries

"Ancient Greece meets Succession by way of Emma Cline, Fruit of the Dead is a deliciously dark examination of agency and power, and the savage complexity of the mother-daughter bond." —Ruth Gilligan, author of The Butchers

"A brutal, brilliant reimagining of the Persephone/Demeter story, shifted seamlessly into a 21st-century thriller of addiction. My heart was pounding for teenage Cory, coerced into a billionaire's Hades, and for her mother, who dismantles her own compromised life to bring her daughter back from the brink. Fruit of the Dead is a scathing and stunning indictment of patriarchal mythology." —Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Mere Wife

“Irresistible and devastating. I devoured Fruit of the Dead in a single day. Lyon has spun an utterly absorbing, lush, and terror-laced retelling of an ancient, archetypal tale—a young woman tempted and taken, a mother’s feral grief—that is both timeless and crisply contemporary." —Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood

"Opulent and unsettling, Fruit of the Dead explores the island where ancient myth meets the contemporary body. This story is vivid, shocking, evocative. It is both of this time and outside it. It is purely Rachel Lyon. It is wonderful." —Julia Phillips, author of Disappearing Earth

"In hallucinatory prose, Rachel Lyon evokes a world lush with pleasure and peril. She has an uncanny grasp on what it is to be a teenage girl, caught between the safety of a mother’s love and the alluring offerings of adulthood. An all-consuming fever-dream of a novel, Fruit of the Dead pulls you under and refuses to let go." —Alexis Schaitkin, author of Saint X

"Rachel Lyon’s genius, alluring novel is a mythic and modern love story: between mother and daughter, between a young woman and the danger she needs to experience, between her darkest and brightest selves. I read with my heart in my throat and my breath held, a total glutton for its sentences and Cory’s propulsive, sparkling, and often terrifying journey." —Danielle Lazarin, author of Back Talk

"A brilliant and luminous reimagining of the Persephone myth. Lyon explores power, consent, motherhood, capitalism, and addiction, in prose as lush and entrancing as her book’s seductive island setting. Incantatory and razor-sharp, Fruit of the Dead casts a powerful spell." —Jessie Chaffee, author of Florence in Ecstasy

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