Saturday, October 20, 2018

Book Reviews: Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties
by Stephen King and Owen King
This doorstopper is just under seven hundred pages. I'm not sure it needed to be that long. It starts quickly but sags a little in the middle. You can make up your own mind about the ending. It is a collaboration between Stephen King and his son Owen King. I could not tell which man wrote which part. Obviously the talent runs in the family. It's a good story. It imagines a dystopia in which half the human population goes to sleep and doesn't wake up. Like all good dystopic fiction the authors use their fictional creation to draw some conclusions about real life current human behavior.

The book was dedicated to the memory of Sandra Bland, which should show the reader what points the authors are trying to make. I occasionally thought that some points were a little heavy handed. An older woman I know thought that both Kings missed some rather obvious insights about female existence, perspective and desire because they were men. Hmm. I don't know about that. Some writers can very easily create realistic characters that differ from their own particular nationality/gender/race/sexuality/etc combination. After all some would argue, and Stephen King would definitely be among them, that such creative imagination and journeying is the entire point of writing. No writer should limit himself or herself to barely disguised author avatars. I didn't find the female characters here unrealistic. But I am not a woman. Women may feel differently.

Each gender has always occasionally felt frustration with the other. Currently we're seeing some female supremacism and chauvinism leak through in the #metoo and #timesup or #futureisfemale hashtags. One could argue that this is all just a reaction to a long history of male chauvinism and supremacism that in "Western" culture goes at least as far back as the Biblical Creation story in which Adam, being queried by God about why Adam ate the forbidden fruit, turns around and tells God that it was the woman God gave him who gave him the forbidden fruit (So hey like don't blame me dude, it was all her fault). 


Writers, philosophers, filmmakers and biologists have long wrestled with why men and women are different from each other, how such differences are made manifest, if such differences even exist, and what would happen if one gender simply vanished.
In Sleeping Beauties, the Kings add their own answers to some of these questions. In the very near future over a period of about a week the world's women and girls start to go to sleep. They don't wake up. They don't die. Instead a cocoon spins out of their bodies, covering them completely in some sort of gauze. As long as no one tries to remove this gauze the women remain alive in some sort of apparent coma. If someone is distraught enough or stupid enough to attempt to damage or remove the cocoon, the women awake in a feral rage and attack whoever opened the cocoon or whoever is stupid enough to still be in the vicinity.


This book is set in the town of Dooling, West Virginia. The primary employer in Dooling is no longer the coal company but a women's prison. Most of the women incarcerated, even the worst ones, have some tale of woe that is centered around a man who did them wrong. One new inmate in the Dooling Prison is a strange woman known as Evie Black, seen earlier in the book killing an incestuous drug dealing pimp in a manner that should be impossible for a woman to accomplish. As other women start to fall asleep and spin cocoons, Evie appears to maintain normal sleeping and waking patterns. Evie knows things she shouldn't know and can do things that defy the limits of biology or physics. 

As more and more women fall asleep society falls apart. Left bereft of feminine companionship some men start burning the cocoons. Other men are obviously not interested in losing their wives, daughters, sisters or mothers, and defend their women.  Some men, learning of Evie's seeming immunity to this plague. decide that she might be the key to reversing it.  Desperate to be reunited with their loved ones, these men don't care who they have to hurt to make things normal again. Other men, including those tasked to guard Evie, conclude that hurting or killing Evie may foreclose any possibility of waking the sleeping women and girls. For her part Evie may or may not be able to bring the sleeping women back to our reality. It's not necessarily up to her. The women are in a male free world. Some of the women might like it there better.

This was a good read that hit the reader over the head with a political message a bit too much for me. I am interested in going back to see what else Owen King has written. As is usual in Stephen King books there is a lot of insight about the mundane things that keep husbands and wives together (or drive them apart) once the initial erotic excitement has dissipated. These sorts of realistic themes always center King's work even as he can go far afield.  Two very different men, an animal control officer and a prison psychiatrist, find themselves on opposite sides, even as their bad tempers mark them as brothers from different mothers.
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