Publication date: October 10th 2017
Genres: Book Clubs, Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction
It’s not too surprising that there is a flood of fiction hitting the market these days about women and their responses to generations of systemic subjugation and abuse. Maybe it’s time for a new genre—vengeance fiction? Whatever the genre, The Power by Naomi Alderman is a fierce and provocative novel about what happens when evolution (possibly aided by manmade chemicals) steps in and suddenly, women are no longer defenseless against males who make unwelcome advances, harass or attack. Instead, beginning with teenage girls, females can produce electricity through their hands. In short order, these girls can pass the ability on to older women and soon all females have the power. At first, men try and control the situation with mandatory testing and firing of female employees shown to have the ability and segregation of teenage girls in schools, but as the gift spreads, the power structure is upended and the novel erupts.
Allie, Roxy, Margot, and Tunde are the three standard bearers for the world Alderman creates in The Power. Shortly after discovering her ability Allie quickly sheds her past and styles herself as a new-order religious leader, Mother Eve. Roxy is a British teen whose father runs a small scale criminal enterprise. Where Allie has finesse and patience with her power, Roxy has brute force—more wattage and capabilities than anyone she encounters. Her upbringing makes her perfectly suited to providing the muscle Allie needs to achieve her goals. In return, Roxy finally has control over her world. Margot is the novel’s only adult, having had her power activated by her teenage daughter. A mayor of a large U.S. city she has much bigger ambitions. And Tunde is the only male in the novel who is able to move amongst women unfettered. From Nigeria, he uploads one of the first videos of a girl jolting a man who is harassing her and quickly becomes the foremost reporter on the power. He travels the world, studying, interviewing and documenting what is happening. Using these four, Alderman encapsulates the real forces that are always behind the power: religion, government, the media, and the military.
I complain about plot overload. A lot. I imagine there are readers who felt that way about The Power, but Alderman marshals her forces in a way that swept me along with the story without pulling me under. The novel is a book within in a book, in that it opens with a male historian sending a female counterpart a manuscript. It soon becomes clear that they live 5,000 years after the power appeared in women and the ‘history’ we’re about to read occurs at some point in our future and is the novel itself. With that, Alderman begins peeling back the layers on what lies ahead. She carefully works her way around the globe and women who have been enslaved in every way imaginable slowly find their way to this gift and begin to use it to tear down the structures of the patriarchy. Men fall…and fall…and fall in this dark novel and I, for one, didn’t feel bad about it.
But The Power is science fiction not a fairy tale. It would be safe to think that, as we see females now, nurturing and collaborative, so they would remain if given the biological ability to dominate males, to completely change the landscape of the world. But what if that is just a construct based on centuries of religious, military, governmental, and media pressure? And what would a new world look like if that construct were obliterated? Suffice it to say, Alderman doesn’t go easy on either gender. The Power is a dark, turbo-charged novel I could not put down. Even in the final sentence, as my mind was already short circuiting from all my thoughts about what I’d read, she throws one last hook and MIND. BLOWN.