What would happen to the world if half of the population went to sleep and never woke up? And how would that reaction differ if the population was divided by gender, and all of the sleepers were females? How would men handle a world without women?
I’ve been intrigued by this book since the cover art was released, and immediately put myself on hold for at my local library. I was super excited when it came in, though I have to admit I was surprised by the size. Yes, King has written some huge books, but I guess that somewhere in the back of my mind I expected a co-authored book to a bit shorter. But the length was perfect for the story; the pace never felt like it was dragging.
Back to the sleepers. Imagine if, one day, any woman who fell asleep became somehow cocooned, and wasn’t able to wake up. And if someone decided to remove a woman from their cocoon, there was hell to pay. Awakened women were angry women, and they fought dirty, biting off noses and beating or stabbing their awakener with whatever happened to be handy, until their faces were once more wrapped in silken fibers and they drifted back into their supernatural slumber. These sleeping beauties left the men of the world completely flabbergasted and the women still clinging to consciousness terrified of long blinks. The aftermath of Aurora, as the sleeping sickness has been named, is where the story really takes off.
There were so many things I loved about this book. The gender questions raised by Aurora were fascinating. Are men more violent without women around to calm them? What would a world without women, or a world without men for that matter, look like for the gender left behind? I don’t think gender roles are as cut-and-dried as they are portrayed in the novel (obviously), but the stereotypes exist and were explored in an interesting way. There are some people that found the book sexist, but I really don’t think that what King and King were going for; they were merely exploring the stereotypes that have defined our society for so long, and that still permeate certain corners and communities. And some of those stereotypes do still hold a grain of truth when discussing a gender as a whole. For instance, far less violent crimes are perpetrated by women than are perpetrated by men. Does this mean that there aren’t violent women? No. Does it mean that all men are violent? Of course not! But differences between genders as a whole do exist, and they bear discussing so that we can figure out the roots of said differences. And seeing societies redefined when they hold only one gender was fascinating. There was also a bit of examination of race and sexuality as they divide our societies, and I felt that they were tastefully. That’s not to say that there weren’t characters who spewed hatred and clung to archaic viewpoints, but isn’t that the case in real life, as well? No society is ever going to be without people who fight against the march of progress.
One of my favorite things about King novels is his ability to take a conflict of cosmic importance and show that conflict in a small town setting, allowing the outcome of the smaller-scale battle dictate the fate of the world at large. In this case, Dooling, a little town in the Appalachian Mountains, is the focal point of the story, as is the women’s correctional facility at employs a chunk of the town. The fate of the world’s women and the men they left behind depends on the decisions made in Dooling and the prison, especially those involving Evie Black. Evie appeared in Dooling right as Aurora was making its first appearances in the town and prison, and a lot of people think that she has something to do with the sleeping sickness. They just might be right. Because the thing is, Evie isn’t quite human. And I really loved her. She’s funny and scary and incredibly compelling. Evie is one of my favorite characters I’ve come across in a King novel, and I loved how ambiguous she was, playing both sides of the war that raged through Dooling.
King always makes the characters in his small towns feel so real, resulting in a town that is completely believable. And that depth and variance of characterization was definitely present in Sleeping Beauties. I cared so much about the characters, and they were all so well-developed and different from one another. However, this didn’t feel exactly like a King book. The prose was different. It felt a little more modern and polished than his solo work, which to me made it feel more like a co-authored book because I could feel Owen King’s influence. (Not that I have any problems with King's regular prose, mind you; I obviously enjoy it or I wouldn't be consuming so much of his work!) However, the writing was seamless; I could never tell who wrote what, although I could feel the influence of both writers. I’ve seen some people compare this in tone and scope to Joe Hill’s The Fireman, and I completely got that comparison. For me, that was a bonus, because The Fireman was one of my favorite books published in 2016.
In case you couldn’t tell, I really loved this book. It was fabulous. I know that it won’t appeal to everyone, but it just checked all the right boxes for me. It’s a compelling story that touches on some major sore spots currently plaguing our world, and handles those topics well. It’s fun and disturbing and kept me up late reading, and it’s a book that I’ll definitely be reading again.