Men disappear in mediocre new novel – Winnipeg Free Press

Years ago there was a dark joke in the New Yorker, the lady of the world opening the door to the doctor with the black bag, while we see in the background her nigger husband who has hung himself on the banister. Sorry to bother you doctor, said the lady, I’m sure it’s nothing.

Such an attitude is part of the vanity of Sandra Newman’s new novel Men which, despite the author’s literary credentials, has the tearing thrust of short chapters from a script or miniseries preview.

Elevator pitch: One day, all men and boys disappear. Even the babies in the womb, the whole shooting match, the screaming, the whole messy mess of wayward men. Instead of: Boy where’s my car?his Car, where’s my man?

Men

Men

The prose and wooden figures are reminiscent of Ayn Rand. Atlas shrugged. makes the Most Important Men disappear, but on purpose, so that the idlers learn to stop slacking off. While Rand has slipped objectivism into his work (altruism is bad!), in this book the principle of commensalism is launched. (According to Webster, it describes two organisms in a relationship in which one gains but the other suffers no gain or harm.)

Like Rand, Newman aligns the growth of capitalism with biology and natural development, and apes the post-Darwinian effort of the 19th and 20th centuries to try to harmonize culture with its biological model of evolving systems and to make future predictions. But before this empty work begins, the ‘left behind’ women must overcome the shock of being left by the wayside by the men, who seem to miss them terribly now that they are gone. When the women in the book are first “unmanned”, they (sad as that may be) become “hysterical”.

“Ji-Won was crying like the woman was crying, like the women in the headlights were all crying, and she realized that they were all part of something, something strange and evil and huge like a war,” writes Newman. “They were all brave kids together. They were children who would never be happy again.

I won’t divulge the plot with spoilers, but the book struggles, like a lot of speculative fiction, with Big Topics – and the genre has long been a Big Topic in the sci-fi genre. To his credit, Newman’s name checks his many mentors, and they’re top notch – I can see Sheri S. Tepper’s The doors of the women’s country and Joanne Russ The feminine man on my shelf as I write. Frank Herbert wrote the reverse premise of Men in his 1982 novel The white plaguewhere only those with two X chromosomes have disappeared due to bioterrorism.

But this latest entry comes at a time when the essentialism of gender and sex is a hot topic. So how does the book treat trans people? Your evaluator is a woman, but has a Y chromosome. Where do I fit into this universe of the author’s creation? In many ways, our community is already disappearing into the world.

The answer, served up in a paragraph or less, is that we’re gone too, as are intersex (strange if they don’t have a Y) and non-binary. Trans men are also covered, but this is also a superficial wink. Nods are made to race, whiteness and other issues of the day as well. For one big enough thing to change and everything else to stay the same is a tough pill to swallow, but we have to. The author is big on categories and apparently not a fan of chaos theory. Everything is explained. At least some thought has been done in this area.

Most, Men isn’t just a befitting edit of a marvelous canon of genre-conscious fiction, and ends up being distasteful and unappealing; dull, both drama and controversy.

Lara Rae is a writer and comedian whose play Dragonfly was selected as one of Playwright’s Guild of Canada’s Must-Read Plays for Women. Like most people, she has no idea what chromosomes are or what they look like.

Irene B. Bowles