Genre: Suspense; Supernatural; Horror
Publication Date: 26 September 2017
Source: Mine. All mine.
In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place… The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied? Or is she a demon who must be slain? Set in a small Appalachian town whose primary employer is a women’s prison, Sleeping Beauties is a wildly provocative, gloriously absorbing father/son collaboration between Stephen King and Owen King.”
My Thoughts: Reading Sleeping Beauties at a time when arguments rage about victims’ rights, rape culture, and women’s health at large is a balm to the soul. Indeed, the idea of women building our own society without men is downright utopic after this past year of nothing but Hillary bashing, rising misogyny, and increasing hatred towards anything not white and male. Perhaps the wishful thinking evoked by reading Sleeping Beauties colored my opinion of it; it is difficult to see how it did not. It is with this in mind though that I type up my thoughts on the latest King novel.
Sleeping Beauties is not a typical King novel, and by that I mean it is not a typical Stephen King novel. It has his hallmark attention to detail, large cast of characters, and world-building. It does dabble in one otherworldly creature and one unexplainable situation. However, there are no monsters hiding in the shadows. There are no objects turned evil. No undead prowling the streets. In this regard, it is more similar to his 11/22/63 than it is to The Shining or even the Mr. Mercedes trilogy.
The most terrifying thing about Sleeping Beauties is the men and the rapidity at which society declines upon the women falling asleep. The entire novel occurs in the period of a week, and the town of Dooling by the end of that week is a burnt-out shell of itself in more ways than one. While the Kings resort to caricatures for many of the men in Dooling, readers still experience a shock at the ease with which most of the men, no matter how cliched they are, justify their crass or even violent behavior towards others. Even more upsetting is how frequently we hear and accept (for the most part) these same excuses in everyday life. The men in Dooling mirror right-wing arguments currently being spouted in the United States right now, and that is downright horrifying.
The story itself is interesting as a direct result of its close ties to current headlines. The Kings are careful to show that not all men are horrible pigs, just as they show that a women-only society will have its own problems. Conflict is a part of life no matter what gender you are, and crime will occur whenever a group of people live together whether that group is all men or all women or a mix of the two.
As much as I enjoyed the story and recommend it to others, Sleeping Beauties is not without its problems. For one, the Kings fail to discuss the sticky situation of gender. Does the sleeping curse only occur in humans with ovaries and a uterus? What about transgender? What about hermaphrodites? Does your identified gender matter in this case? I would have loved to see the Kings explore this area, especially because the men and women of Dooling are supposed to represent the rest of the world. Yet, this portion of society is missing.
For another, no matter how careful they are, the Kings resort to a lot of cliches. If one were to take the men of Dooling and categorize them, the majority of the men are the gun-toting, heavy drinkers who think women were put on the earth to serve men. Society breaks down so quickly because the men are too busy drinking away their sorrows to consider the greater good. The power struggle that occurs among the remaining citizens is solely because of the existence of Evie and the outrage that a woman could ever best a man. While I have no doubt that there are many men who fit the Dooling model in real life, you wish that there was a little more originality put into the characters. Did they have to be the stereotypical Appalachian man, complete with moonshine and drugs and gun stockpiles?
In spite of those issues, Sleeping Beauties is important in that it forces you to think about the coexistence of the sexes rather than to take them for granted like we do. I can see this being an excellent book club selection as well for that reason. There is so much within the story that begs for further discussion, from the fall of society without women to Our Place to the depiction of each gender in the story and more. It is worth repeating that this is not your typical King novel. Those of my friends who have read it and have expressed their displeasure at it cite that as one of the reasons they did not like it. However, if you go into it with an open mind and no expectations, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.