By Sandra Newman, published 2022
I stumbled on this book while perusing Libreria near Shoreditch. While it isn’t exactly about motherhood, it caught my attention because it’s probably one of the most conventional versions of a feminist dystopia you can imagine: all the men in the world – poof! – disappear.
At first the world is in chaos — there are practically no police or garbage truck drivers or firefighters. There’s no gas for cars and food shortages abound (I suppose because there are fewer truck drivers). But eventually things settle down and a previously underdog political party, the Commensalists, grows in popularity. The central characters are connected to this party. There’s Evangelyne, the founder, and her friend/girlfriend Jane. Jane is the most consistent narrator, and we know Evangelyne only through her, but there are sections that feature a more omniscient narrator who shepherds the other main characters that will eventually meet.
Jane embodies the complicated emotions almost all women feel as a result of the disappearance. She had a husband and son, and she misses them desperately. But she also suffered devastating abuse and neglect in her youth, at the hands of men. While the novel gets very strange (the men is a streamed video that shows all the men who disappeared in a strange land, living savagely), what it’s really asking is whether the world would be better off without the men. The women who remain engineer a way to make babies without men, the effects of climate change dissipate, and they now live with a freedom and sense of safety that is novel and beautiful.
The novel also addresses critical cultural issues of the moment, such as police brutality, racism, and gender identity. For example, transgender women also disappear. Newman asks big questions and gives no answers — something I deeply respect. Still, given that the pace slowed dramatically in the final third of the book, there were many complicated backstories of characters I didn’t get the chance to know, and The Men (the video) was entirely inexplicable, I was left feeling a bit short-changed at the end. 2.5 stars.