The Power

UnknownYour hands will be cool but your mind may receive a jolt when you read Naomi Alderman’s electrifying and timely book, The Power.  In this dystopian world, Alderman asks  – what if women had all the power? What if all those women who were attacked by sexual predators could just zap them away with volts of electricity?

Leadership skills are helpful in this futuristic world, but electric shocks delivered to the uncooperative offer the most persuasive and sometimes deadly incentives.  Alderman frames her story around the draft of a novel written by an historian in the future; the novel begins and ends with letters asking for and receiving short reviews of the novel’s believability.  The historian is tracing the origin of the set of nerve cells – a skein of electrical wiring – across the collarbones of women.

In the historian’s premise, the appearance of the powerful skeins caused the shift in power from male to female control of the world.  Teenage girls first discover their power through manipulation of the electrical currents they can control for self-defense against men.  Initially, this unleashed power saves them from sexual advances, but eventually, its use for aggressiveness leads to a new religion, an armed force of women, and eventual take over of a world previously dominated by men.  Leaders include an ambitious  woman politician, the daughter of an underworld gangster, and an abused girl who becomes a charismatic pseudo-religious icon.

Alderman cleverly inserts recognizable scenarios of sex and power, reversing the attackers to women and the prey as men, as well as believable Internet forums corralling and controlling public opinion.  The action is sometimes graphic and the one male hero, a Nigerian reporter, manages to document the atrocities and send them into the newsfeed. The abuse of power, it seems, is not limited to men. Eventually, the world blows up in a nuclear disaster to reboot into a new future with better women in charge.

The final irony of a world with women in charge has a laughable moment when the reviewer is writing letters to the author commenting on the feasibility of the book for publication.  The reviewer, a woman, asks the author, a man, to change to a female pseudonym – the story may be better received if written by a woman.

Although I am not a fan of dystopian novels or science fiction, The Power, the winner of the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction, has a timeliness for today’s headlines.  Compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the story has the same impact – a mix of terrifying fantasy and realism with electrifying satire.  This captivating book is scary, humorous, and unsettling – worth talking about.

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Son by Lois Lowry

Although dystopian future worlds seem to have become popular recently, Lois Lowry has been writing about them for years. If you are a fan of The Giver, you may remember Jonas and his flight to Elsewhere, with a baby boy designated to be destroyed. If you have not read Lowry’s book (or can’t remember its plot), you can still enjoy the drama of the boy’s mother, in her quest to find her boy in Son.

Claire’s world is that amazing futuristic utopia with controlled climates, no insects or rodents, designated jobs (including Claire’s as Birthmother) – emotionless, disciplined, and well-ordered. No anomalies are allowed. Expecting to continue with her new duties in the fish hatchery, after failing to deliver her baby naturally, Claire is surprised that she has feelings for her new-born (someone forgot to give her the pills for impassivity). When she finds her baby in the care facility, he is not conforming well – seems he doesn’t like naps and wants to be held.

On the eve of her son’s fate, he disappears with Jonas, and Claire mysteriously manages to board a freighter ship, fall overboard, and is rescued. Finding herself suddenly in a new world, Claire at first becomes a mystifying heroine, becoming an apprentice to the old woman healer and midwife. Her memory returns when she is assisting in a birth, and her focus becomes finding her son.

The book switches to Claire’s quest – her preparation and training to climb the dangerous mountain that will lead her out of the village and hopefully to the man who will take her to her son – for a price. Lowry details her training, from one-handed push-ups to slippery runs with rocks in her backpack. Her trainer is Einar, a young man, now crippled from his unsuccessful attempt to get out. Her actual climb is thrilling; Lowry will have you gasping at each slip of foot, drop of the glove, and the attack by a mother gull protecting its nest.

After Claire makes a deal with the evil Trademaster, she finds her son, now a young man who is yearning to learn about his roots. But Claire’s trade has left her unrecognizable.

Lowry ends the tale with a satisfying triumph of good over evil, and with a rewarding reveal for her fans who wondered about the fate of Jonas and Gabe.