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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

The Power

Here's the premise--women, long held back in a patriarchy--gain the upper hand when they mysteriously develop the power to use electricity as a weapon. In a cross between The Handmaid's Tale and Marvel Comics, Naomi Alderman considers what would happen if a group of subjugated people suddenly fought back, and men were reduced to forming men's rights groups.

This is The Power, and while this idea is well worth exploring, I'm sorry to say the execution is woefully lacking. I'm surprised that this book was included in the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, because the prose groans under is own weight. What can we say of a book that includes the following: "These things are happening all at once. These things are one thing. They are the inevitable result of all that went before. The power seeks its outlet. These things have happened before; they will happen again. These things are always happening." Right.

Alderman focuses on four characters: Allie, who escapes an abusive foster home (she zaps the dad, who is trying to rape her) and becomes "Mother Eve," the spiritual leader of the movement; Roxy Munke, the daughter of a British gangster and a very powerful individual; Tunde, a Nigerian journalist who, despite his gender, gets close to the leaders of the feminist electric company; and Margot Cleary, who gets the power from her daughter, and over the course of the book moves from mayor to governor to senator.

Where the book lost me was its politics--there's something about a civil war in the nation of Moldova, where a former gymanst has taken power, and the influence of the Saudis on that conflict. I really couldn't make heads or tales of it. To make things even more complex, Alderman has borrowed a trick from Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle by making it seem that it was written by a man in a society where women were powerful and men were weak: "I feel instinctively—and I hope you do, too—that a world run by men would be more kind, more gentle, more loving and naturally nurturing." Ha!

The Power is really second-rate paperback rack stuff, with some sex and violence thrown in: "It burrows through the bone like it’s splintering apart from the inside; she can’t stop herself seeing a tumor, a solid, sticky lump bursting out through the marrow of her arm, splitting the ulna and the radius to sharp fragments." The electric power comes from a "skein" in the woman's chest, and we learn these can be removed and transplanted. Part of the climax includes a man being ripped apart.

While the political and religious angle of The Power is interesting, it is let down by clumsy, at times incoherent prose. Too bad.

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