The Men by Sandra Newman
publishes June 14th, 2022
This review is by my roommate, Jude, who read this because I sure was not fucking going to. Take it away, Judah!
the main issue with this book is that our dear latitude, owner, author, and editor of this blog, my favorite roommate, would disappear on account of their xy chromosomes.
but really — so many things about this book are bad – the racism, the plot, the prose, the ableism, the ~twist~, the ending (it’s a dream, really? what is this, tumblr 2010?), the transmisogynistic premise, the racism. honestly this book felt like nothing happened and a white woman is just malcontent about her life. because in fact, nothing happened, and a white woman is just upset about her life choices.
here’s the main events of the book: jane pearson is camping with her husband and young son. while they go to bed in the tent she falls asleep outside, in a hammock. she wakes up and they’re gone. she stays on the mountain 10 days trying to find them. she comes down and realizes all the men (technically everyone with xy chromosomes) has disappeared. she eventually seeks out her old good friend/almost lover, evangelyne moreau, a black political revolutionary and the only remotely interesting character. the book is interspersed with details about a mysterious site that has videos of the disappeared people in weird, trippy settings. eventually evangelyne’s past with a bipolar girl comes out and it’s somehow all her fault, and she asks jane to choose her over her husband & son, and if she doesn’t choose evangelyne everything will go back to the moment the men disappeared – including evangelyne with a police mob surveilling her house.
jane pearson is insufferable the entire story. the men is just a book about her feeling bad about her cushy life that she is unwilling to leave, even though she is bored and unhappy. and the story really didn’t need to be 200 pages of annoying racist comments to be told. far too frequently a white character would be like “I had this racist impulse/thought and was ashamed” and it never added anything to the story but it kept happening, just a book of white guilt. jane’s ultimate choice at the end directly causes evangelyne to be murdered by the police in her own home.
jane talks about the advantages of men disappearing as if women have no agency, as if all women go around appeasing the men in their lives and putting all women’s behaviors at the behest of men. the prose also just says some inane stuff sometimes, like this quote:
it has always astonished me how women talk. men talk, but women talk as if engaged in research, talk in no direction, pondering, investigating, acting out scenes, asking open-ended questions, spinning a life like a spiderweb and dancing upon that woven life
like first of all this is just a wild romanticization of how women talk, and, i’ve been a woman in my time, i’ve navigated social spaces both as a woman and as a man (and as a gnc woman, a trans man, as genderqueer, a dyke, a fag – plenty of genders i’ve acted out!) and this is an absolutely buckwild thing to write. the painting of men as a monolith of terribleness, of maladjustment and violent and stupid and oh women are never these things – is extremely gender essentialist and also the most stupid, basic, boring analysis of gender.
on the subway, two people asked if ruth wanted help, and when she got down from the train platform, for the first time ever it didn’t smell of urine. that undid her, and she was sobbing on the train, so furious at the men. of course you couldn’t know their disappearance was punishment, but who didn’t think it was punishment? after all the wars, the pollution, the rapes? they even had to piss on the train platforms! they had to keep misbehaving until they got erased.
we all know women of course wouldn’t cause war, pollution, or rape, or piss outside of toilets (also, you think the piss on train platforms is because dudes wanted to piss there or do you think maybe the lack of public bathrooms might be related). narrowing every social issue down to “oh it’s because of men” is such a nearsighted analysis – as if all the bullshit we live with can be boiled down to manhood. wealth, race, religion, greed, selfishness, individualism – so many things contribute to the evils of the world, and those wouldn’t disappear if men weren’t around. powerful women would be there ready to take up the gauntlet.
i was also the nice white girlfriend who could give white donors a feeling of safety, a girl with a radiant public goodness like a stained-glass window, like eva perón. in this connection, my sex offender status only seemed to add a little spice, as perhaps fascism had for eva.
this is an insane sentence i don’t need to say anything more on it.
the way that the book throws in some “oh i saw trans women in the weird videos of the men also” and “there was a trans man but he got sexually assaulted in the street” is absurd considering that the book is still entitled *the men* and the mention of transness and gender and sex variance aren’t investigated in the context of the story at all. honestly i’d rather the editor who advised newman to write those mentions in didn’t do so because somehow it makes the “everyone with xy chromosomes disappears” premise worse. i’m more offended by the shitty attempt of inclusion than i would be by the run of the mill sex-based essentialism that i experience every day.
my rating: 1/5 stars
i’m just a dumb stoner, but you should consider reading gretchen felker-martin’s review, which is much smarter than mine. or, better yet subscribe to her patreon and also purchase and devour manhunt, an actually good book.
i read this as an ARC and would not recommend anyone spend money or time on this book. unless you want to hate-read it to gossip about it, which is why i read it, but please don’t pay for it otherwise we are not friends anymore.