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The Power
by Naomi Alderman
Viking, $16.99, 382pp
Published: October 2016

This is unabashedly feminist writing but the message this story carries is, while decidedly pessimistic, applicable to both women and men.

One day, young girls start realizing they have access to electrical power within their own body; a new organ which generates an electrical charge at will.  The discovery, at first, is made when a girl is threatened and she fights back.  And, at first, the discovery horrifies the poor girl and usually kills or damages the man severely.  Later, the girls discover novel and interesting ways to use an electric charge that is fun and titillating for their boyfriends.  And they also discover they can awaken the organ in older women.  At that point, there really isn’t anything the men can do to stem the tide. Every baby girl is born with the organ.

Allie was one of the first.  Her foster parents had particularly harsh ways of disciplining her but when her efforts to stop yet another rape killed her foster father, she never considered defending her action; she just ran.  She was taken in by a community of nuns who tried to gather in as many girls as they could and teach them control.  It was here she adopted the name Eve which was later made into Mother Eve as she became a beacon of hope and reason in an increasingly chaotic world.

Roxy was born into organized crime and aspired to be her father’s protégé and was usually eclipsed by her brothers.  The night a rival gang came and killed her mother, Roxy ran.  She ended up in the same nunnery as Eve where she also learned how to use her new power.  Eventually, she returned to her father to be a bigger part of his crime empire but she failed to anticipate that behind the loving welcome was a long-term plan that, again, was intended to keep men in their rightful positions of power.

Margot is a mayor aiming for the governor’s mansion when it hits the fan.  All women politicians are suspected of having the power and must repeatedly demonstrate they have not, to keep the people’s (read: men’s) trust.  But Margot’s daughter, Jocelyn, unexpectedly awakens her power.  Now Margot has to figure out how to defeat the testing and maintain the illusion that she is an ordinary woman while protecting her daughter from the threats that have escalated against girls. Once she’s in the governor’s seat she has the power to do something to really make a difference. She institutes a camp for girls; a place where they can learn control – which is what the public is told.  But her real intent is to train them; to create a private army.

Tatiana was the wife of a president of a small eastern European country when a young maid awakened her power.  It was a real game-changer for Tatiana who wasted no time dealing with her faithless and brutal husband and making the country hers.  Unfortunately, turning girls into warriors isn’t done overnight but it’s done quicker by employing Margot’s private army.  Unfortunately, the stress of keeping the country under her control slowly wears her down. If not for the support of her good friend, Mother Eve, she might lose it all.

And the only male point-of-view in the story is Tunde, a freelance journalist.  Tunde was there in the beginning and recognized the beginning of something really big.  He followed the story all over the globe and when he could no longer find a publisher to take his stories, he posted them online himself.  But when he followed the story to the darkest corners, the story overtook him.  Without an epic save from Roxy, he wouldn’t have survived.

So, what was the tipping point?  It might have been the conflict in eastern Europe that pulled in the nuclear powers.  It might have been the deification of Mother Eve that disturbed the status quo. Or it might have been the power of a U.S. Senator, Margot, who reacted to an attack on her daughter as a mother but with the power of the United States behind her.  Or maybe it was just a growing power structure that had thousands of generations of cumulative pain and suffering to galvanize it.

The story structure is pretty standard using multiple points-of-view to show the changes in different parts of society and the world.  But framing the whole story is the concept that this is a fictionalized historical account written five thousand years in the future terming this point of history as the Cataclysm.  Apparently, there was a concerted effort to completely wipe all of traces of man’s dominion over women so that these distant descendants cannot even conceive of a world where women had no power.  One voice even wistfully wonders if the world would be a better place if men were in power; a quieter, more peaceful place. The plot is all, the characters only there to advance the storyline.  And do not expect any closure, dear reader.  There are no happy-ever-afters. Since this is a historical account, no one is very interested in any individual’s story other than how it fits into the history.  And history is, of course, written by the victors.

The story is stark as are the events it portrays.  It moved so fast for me that there just wasn’t time to develop any connection or sympathy with any of the characters.  It was a lot like being caught up in a fictionalized documentary.  It is not the sort of story that I usually enjoy and too fantastical to consider a viable possibility but it is a cautionary tale that men should notice.  If anything should happen to give women the upper hand, they should not expect much mercy. But men won’t read this.  ~~  Catherine Book

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