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THE MEN by Sandra Newman


by Sandra Newman

Pub Date: June 14th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-8021-5966-3
Publisher: Grove

The author of The Heavens (2019) imagines a world inhabited solely by women.

At 7:14 p.m. Pacific time on Aug. 26, every human being with a Y chromosome disappeared. Jane Pearson wakes the next morning to discover that her husband and young son are gone. Later, she will learn that all the men, all the boys, all the transgender women…they’re all gone. This is not a new concept. Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance (1951) opens with these lines: “The female of the species vanished on the afternoon of the second Tuesday of February at four minutes and fifty-two seconds past four o’clock, Eastern Standard Time.” In Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man series of graphic novels—the first installment published in 2002—a virus kills every man on Earth except for one. A deadly illness that strikes only men also plays a role in Christina Sweeney-Baird’s debut novel, The End of Men, published just last year. What makes Newman’s take on this SF trope different is that this novel doesn’t seem to want to be science fiction. After setting the dystopian narrative in motion, the author pulls back to offer a detailed account of Jane’s life up to this point. After joining a dance troupe as a teen, she falls under the control of a man who abuses her by compelling her to abuse other, younger kids. She escapes jail by testifying against her abuser. This is a horrifying story compellingly told, but it feels like it belongs in a different book. We also get the full history of Evangelyne Moreau, Jane’s one-time friend. A philosopher-turned-politician, an ex-convict, and a former cult member, Evangelyne is a fascinating character, but Newman spends more time sharing Evangelyne’s history than exploring the strange universe she has created. By the last page, the connection between the realistic and speculative parts of the novel is clear, but the speculative elements feel woefully underdeveloped—which is too bad, because they’re inventive and chilling. Also worth noting: There will be readers who object to the gender essentialism upon which this novel relies and the way Newman handles the fate of people who aren’t cisgender when the “men” disappear.

Occasionally brilliant but ultimately unsatisfying.