Review: “Men”, by Sandra Newman; and “When Women Were Dragons”, by Kelly Barnhill
But for those who read it, there are other elements worthy of discussion. Evangelyne’s political philosophy of commensalism – a biological term for a relationship between species in which one benefits and the other is not harmed – is fascinating. The demonic landscape sections are extremely unsettling and perfectly conveyed. In one clip, the men stand motionless on a bank, staring at the distant shore. “Among the frozen humans… felines the size of horses prowl relentlessly. An elephantine behemoth changes its tail. The image begins to darken and lighten rapidly: “You see the shadows of men and animals turning, lengthening and shortening. In the end, men are visibly thinner. These sections are weird, propulsive, and horrifying. The worst thing imaginable happens to a young boy in pajamas. A friend who watched me as I read this section told me that my face had changed shape almost beyond recognition. It is a book whose disturbing imagination reaches across the page into our world.
Jane’s story is also deeply disturbing. At 16, she was groomed by the older director of her ballet troupe, Alain, who taught her how to seduce — abuse — boys from the age of 13 so he could watch them have affairs. sexual. At the time of the trial, it was more difficult to prosecute Alain than Jane; after all, he hadn’t touched the victims. Jane is branded a criminal and destroyed: “I’ll never be whole, I can never feel good.”
Although the details differ, I too was groomed as a girl by a powerful man in my field with a sexual interest in young boys: Sidney Greenbaum, the Quain Professor of English at the University of London, who was convicted of his crimes in 1990. I know how you feel when your abuser deliberately cultivates an atmosphere of confusion around an appropriate touch; and Newman portrays the mechanics of Jane’s grooming with precise, sickening precision. The compliments, the persuasive adult attention, the slowly but inexorably changing norms, being made an accomplice to something without the maturity to understand let alone consent to it. Jane’s complex feelings about men haunt the novel: her attacker and their victims were men. In the world, men are warmongers but also innocent civilians. Men are more often victims of violent crime than women. The more you watch, the more complex gender issues become.
Things in Kelly Barnhill’s fable “When Women Were Dragons”, on the other hand, are much simpler. In 1955, a “mass dragon” event transformed more than 600,000 American women into giant fire-breathing creatures who left their husbands and children behind. Among them is Alex’s 11-year-old aunt Marla, the mother of his cousin Beatrice, who comes to live with Alex afterwards. Alex, a physics prodigy whose own mother dies six years later, is a brave and tenacious heroine, selflessly devoted to Beatrice and fearless by her dismissive father or the pervasive sexism of the 1950s. Is she too perfect to be real? Most likely. But a book in which women spontaneously transform into dragons (amid social pressure to forget it ever happened) isn’t about realism, just delicious fun.