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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Stone Mattress

Margaret Atwood’s short story for The New Yorker – “Stone Mattress” – decidedly changed my mind about exploring on my own.  Who knows who could be lurking among those seemingly innocent elder travelers?

Atwood’s character, Verna, is a clever murderer – but she has a good excuse.  Her path to destruction started in high school, fueled by a horrific incident that changed her life.  When Verna discovers Bob, the smirking cretin who caused her misery, as a fellow passenger on board a cruise to the Arctic, the opportunity for revenge is too easy to pass up.

Having just enjoyed cookies and wine on a cruise through Christmas-land, I considered taking another cruise – maybe on my own.  Atwood has disabused me of that option – at least to the Arctic.

Her short story is compact – with a zinger ending – just like her many of her books.

Read Margaret Atwood’s “Stone Mattress” – here