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“Sleeping Beauties”: a feminist look at this father/son written novel

Book cover of Sleeping Beauties.

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First of all, let me start by saying this book is long. Over 700 pages long. It is not something for the faint-hearted, however, I will say that in audiobook form this novel is still long (25+hrs of listening time), but digestible. This was the first Stephen King and/or Owen King novel that I have ever read. I know, some people might think I am slow to the party, but if I am honest I just feel like a lot of Stephen King’s books never caught my attention. However, the simple question of what would happen to the world if all the women went to sleep did catch my eye. It is an interesting question, particularly in today’s political, social, and economic climate where discussions of equal pay, sexual assault, feminism, and racism are at the forefront of not just American media outlets, but also media outlets from around the world.

Rather than talk about whether this book can pass some sort of unattainable feminist test, I wanted to talk about the novel in relation to some feminist notions that I think the book addresses and what could be done better.

In many ways, this novel feels like a battle of the sexes. Men are depicted as being violent, careless, and essentially not valuing the women in their lives. Some women are tired of the way they are treated by men and want to escape. In the novel, Sleeping Beauties, the women do not just fall asleep. Instead, they go to an alternate world where there are no men and they are given the choice to stay there without men, or return to the world of men. To be honest, while a world without men might be appealing to some, the women do not really get a good start because the world they go to after they fall asleep is in ruins. They get to have a world free of men, provided that they want to start from scratch.

What are the men doing in the meantime, you ask?

The men do not know that the women have gone to a different world. They assume they have simply fallen asleep and many fear they will never wake up again. Men kill themselves and their sleeping female relatives and friends, some men try looking for cures, and some men fear the sleeping women are the beginning of a plague which results in women being burned alive in their sleep cocoons. What I find interesting about the woman-less world is how easy it is for the men to fall into a hysteria… an ‘illness’ which was historically a female affliction.

The simple premise of one gender falls asleep and we see what unfolds is not without A LOT of pitfalls. Where are the representations of trans people? Where are the representations of intersex people? Sure, you could say these are a smaller part of society, but historically (and not just in fantasy novels) these people have not been included in the narrative. This is just not okay. Another issue I have with the novel is its representation of the world of men left without women. There are actually no real discussions of how this would affect society. Women make up the majority in fields like nursing, teaching, aged care, and child care just to name a few, so what is happening to these female dominated professions and services? The issue of men relying on women to do unpaid domestic work is touched upon in the novel, but further than that, women’s roles in society, at large is not really touched upon enough.

The hyper-sexualisation of Evie Black, (the biblical reference is not lost albeit a little obvious) who is the strange and mystical woman that shows up just as all the women fall asleep, is a bit boring. Her role is not really explored enough in the novel for me. I am not sure if keeping the reader in the dark is part of the suspense, but it could actually deter people from getting engaged in the narrative.

At the end of the day, I still enjoyed this book. I think it would make a great T.V. series/mini series (with a few improvements), but it is not without its problems.

This book is a commitment and I can see why some people have not liked. It is long, there are complicated plot arches, a lot of characters, and a lot of chapters. I am not sure if I would have liked it, and possibly even finished it, if I had physically read the novel. That is why, I would only recommend this novel in audiobook form.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this discussion of Sleeping Beauties is not to try to assume that there is a feminist benchmark with which all literature can be judged by, however, I would be lying if I said that it could not do with some positive feminist tweaking.

Have you tackled the beast of a book that is Sleeping Beauties? Did you enjoy it? Better yet, where you able to finish it? As always, share the reading love.

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