Over the last week, I read a novel called The Power by Naomi Alderman (link to a NY Times interview with Alderman). The general premise of the book is that women develop the power to harness electrical energy. This manifests in various ways like being able to shoot lightning from their fingertips, send blasts of electricity through various conductors, disrupt electronics, and manipulate the electrical systems in the human body.
The book talks both about empowerment of women and the fear that men feel as women wake up to this power. There’s fear of physical harm, fear of loss of structural (social, political, economic, militaristic, etc) power, fear about the reconceptualization of personal relationships, and just a general fear within daily life.
Alderman uses this sci-fi alternate history to demonstrate the real fear that women feel on a daily basis. I love how strange and fantastical she makes the very real issues of patriarchy and misogyny seem. The book depicts horrible acts of violence that made me squirm, but they feel warranted in that they are direct critiques of the violence inflicted daily upon women.
The story itself weaves together an ensemble cast. Alderman plays with the narrative structure, so that even though the reader feels like they’re accumulating the momentary insights and motivations of the various protagonists, they don’t really know what the end game is for anyone. Ultimately, Alderman is just using the characters to play with the religious and historical archetypes that serve as the foundation of our modern culture. The feeling of inevitability in watching these thin archetypes play to and with expectations is part of the point.
I really enjoyed the book and hope others will read it, so that we can revel in both the gory details and the grand vision that Alderman offers.