Finally in charge of the planet, women resolve to do a better job than men; but for all their good intentions, Utopia eludes them in this study of human nature and gender roles.
In this debut novel, the war to end all wars has been accomplished in the not-too-distant future for the simple reason that the world has run out of men and materiel to fight anymore. The countryside has been reduced to rubble and most men are dead or presumed so. Not coincidentally, in a wave of vicious misogyny, women had been severely oppressed. Now, it is 10 years after, and the roles are reversed. Through sheer grit, women continue to dig out of the ruins and vow to make a brave, new matriarchal world. But they must always be on guard against roving bands of “raiders,” men bent on pillage, rape, and worse. (A few men are accepted, but they are literally house husbands.) Kate Decker is making a go of it on her farm with her twins, Margaret and Laura, and son, Jonah. One night, a man emerges from the forest begging help for his sick boy, Evan. Thus begins the tentative, tortured relationship between Kate and Michael MacGregor, who has in effect kidnapped his own son so that he will not lose him. If the women in town find out, they will take young Evan and probably kill Michael. With so much hatred, can a true balance ever be achieved? Aguila is a remarkably talented novelist. Her vivid passages paint a fractured society; one female character says of men: “We buried all of them. Even the ones who survived.” The author is not afraid to let a scene grow at its own pace, and virtually everything rings true here. And this engrossing tale is wonderfully balanced with fully developed characters: readers understand what fear and loathing have done to most of these women (even to Kate near the end). But they also know that Michael is a good man and should not be tarred with the same brush aimed at most of his sex. Men and women will react differently to the story, but both should find much to ponder (attention, book clubs). In the end, readers are forced to examine the tragedies that evil can wreak.
A novel of ideas can easily become righteous and preachy; this thoughtful matriarchal tale impressively rises above that.