First of all, this book really needs a better editor. The main character's name changes from Nathaniel to Nathanial several times, there is misuse of pronouns, tense shifts, etc.
But on to the plot.
In this dystopian world men need to get married by age 26 to avoid being castrated (this happens to prevent sexual assault). Setting aside how over the top this is, I must have missed that study on how rapists wait until they're 26 to sexually abuse someone.
If the author had correlated it with female sexual mutilation and given the same reasons, I would have been inclined to take this, I'm not going to say seriously, but without scoffing as I did.
Women actually taunt the main character about his impending castration:
"The synchronicity deteriorated into comments thrown at him like rocks. “Tick Tock, one year closer to the C Center…” “…You dodged a bullet. Well not quite yet, but soon, assuming she really does marry you, Nathaniel.”
One thing that was wrong right from the beginning: Fat shaming.
Okay, we get it, he doesn't like Janice, the lady he's supposed to marry. Not even going to approach the fact that he is also using her (he feels nothing but disgust for her) and he is not, as in most cases with real women in the real world, being forced into the marriage by his family. The lady seems pretty unpleasant going by her personality alone (not making excuses, but most of it is down to her being an insecure alcoholic). Is there really a need to go on and on about her weight?
- "Beautiful was the last word he thought of when looking at Janice. Not just because her doughy body was tightly packed into a sausage skin of a dress."
- "He scooped her up, which was no easy feat. Just as Nathaniel strained to lift her"
- "Janice gobbled two at a time"
And to be fair to the book, the fat shaming goes both ways:
"He looked decent enough – not overweight, but still he clearly didn’t get picked for marriage."
...which is still a bad thing, but... you know.
Janice's uncle Chester gives Nathaniel a forbidden book "Reminder of Truth" by Anonymous, which "According to legend, it described a time long ago when there was equality between the sexes. It was impossible to imagine."
You're right, it is! At this point I'm actually starting to think this was really written by some men's rights activist who happens to also belong to Anonymous and this is a clever tip. I'll keep my eyes open for mentions of "over 9000" anything in the rest of the book.
Speaking of men's rights activists, you guys, hold on to your fedoras and think of the most shameful thing a man could become.
"He was ashamed that he had turned into the exact kind of pussy-whipped guy that he and Brigg used to make fun of when they were teens."
Nathaniel works for the Queen's daughter, and we already know she will become his romantic interest. What we didn't know is that the Queen had a chance to banish castration and promote equality but, once her husband died, "the laws were cemented, along with the Queen’s bitterness". Oh, dames! Ruling with their feelings! If only this broad had a man at her side to help her do things right! Alas...
But how did this change come about? Let's ask Anonymous:
"Our country had a male president. He died and the vice president, a woman named Madeleine Smith took over. She demanded to be addressed as “The Queen.”
LOL can you imagine if this happened? No, seriously. Suspension of disbelief? What is that?
But here's how she convinced everyone:
"She released full reports with fabricated or exaggerated statistics about the prevalence of sexual assaults by unmarried men aged 26 to 35.
She went on the Webavision to tell her story. She had been gang raped as a teenager and her mission as Queen would be to abolish sexual assaults."
I don't know what world this is supposed to be, but in our world you don't need to exaggerate statistics about sexual assault, facts are horrifying on their own. But, according to this very same book, that time was the time where there was equality between the sexes. You know, the kind of equality where women are gang raped.
Nathaniel realises his great mission is to restore the world to this idyllic time.
Look, the misandry portrayed in the book is horrible. No one in their right mind advocates that sort of thing. But I mean, this is fiction... couldn't you at least make up some historical time where gender equality truly existed so a return to it could be the main characters' goal?
Then there are other "jewels" strewn across the book's pages:
"Her look was entirely feminine, but her energy was tough."
Heaven knowns women can only be tough when they button up their flannel shirt up to their chin, but Shayla (the Queen's daughter) manages to be tough while wearing a "rose chiffon blouse beneath the blue wool suit that hugged her like a second skin". What a woman!
"Women get bitchy when they don’t have a sexual release" - this from a female member of the Underground resistance, supposedly someone fighting for gender equality.
The relationship between Nathaniel and Shayla is awkward. One moment they're discussing books, the next they're naked. The thing is, she's his boss. Not only his boss, she's the daughter of the most powerful woman in the country. He's into it, sure, but if he weren't there aren't any laws on sexual harassment in the work place... it feels weird. They have sex several times, interspersed with reminders that he is cheating and his wedding is only one month away. He even mentions that while he doesn't like Janice she doesn't deserve to be cheated on. But that doesn't stop him, of course.
But before we can ponder on how complicated relationships can be -- look! more fat shaming!
"the ripples of cellulite that surrounded her belly button turned him off completely as he couldn’t help but compare it to the negligee and beautifully smooth body of his true love"
Then the main character has to go through some sex training with a woman who looks like a super model (what a nightmare, am I right?). Sadly for him, he has to prove how adept he is at pretending to enjoy pleasing a woman by having sex with a lady old enough to be his grandmother, which allows the readers to enjoy some good old fashioned ageism, as well.
You can tell what the author is trying to do, and yes, I suppose it is well-intentioned if flawed and riddled with other problematic issues. I'm not going to get into how there is no need to be turning the tables like this to draw attention to these issues, and how they'd be better served if one were to take them head on - because in literature there is a space for everything and we should all be thankful for that. But really, drawing attention to these issues by flipping things around requires more skill than was shown here.
Ilana Katz Katz official website
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