Before my Pittsburgh trip, I downloaded Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King intending to listen to it during the four hundred hour car ride. It didn't happen. I eventually got around to it last Friday. Like I've said in a billion previous blogs, I don't read much King. I think I may need to stop saying that. I'm currently reading IT and now I've listened to this one. I fully intend to get the short story collection that contains Apt Pupil so I think I'm coming around on the King thing.
I loved Sleeping Beauties. The premise is, there is a sleeping illness that only affects women. When they fall asleep, they are almost immediately encased in a soft cocoon. They remain in their cocoon and are harmless unless someone disturbs them. Then they wake up, become quite violent, sometimes even murdering whoever disturbed them. I hate it when my sleep is disturbed so I understand the sentiment.
Going in, I expected this to be a gore fest. It is, but it's so much more. The Kings begin with the now famous Mitch McConnell quote, "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted" so I was instantly inclined to like the novel. Of all the things he's said, I assume he regrets those three sentences the most.
On the first day of Aurora, the clever name they've given the sleeping illness, a mysterious woman, who is seemingly omnipotent, shows up in a small Appalachian town, murders a few meth cookers and lands herself in the women's correctional facility. She has no identification, telling everyone who asks her name is Evie Black. As more and more women begin to fall asleep, chaos erupts. Some men, concerned about their wives, daughters, female friends want answers from Evie. Other men are more concerned with who is going to watch their children and make them dinner. Others are thrilled. At least now the roads will be safer because we all know ladies can't drive and they'll finally get some peace and quiet because ladies also can't shut up. The book is full of sexist comments. Some men, so afraid of disturbing the cocoons, resort to setting them on fire, killing the women inside. Just as Evie predicted, men on all sides resort to violence. Violence in the name of saving the women, destroying Evie, or just because they like it. Whatever their reason, the result is a lot of dead people and no solution.
Meanwhile, the women who have fallen asleep are living their existence in another plane. A community of women. The former inmates come in handy because many of them had training in trades so they have electricians and plumbers. Other women sew, make clothes, and cook. They hold weekly meetings in the old grocery store to discuss what they miss from their old lives and work out any grievances. There is little to no violence. They can walk down the street at night without having to look behind them. They go about their business without being catcalled. As more and more women fall asleep, their community grows. Occasionally, one of them disappears in a puff of smoke; when their body dies in the old world, they die here as well.
Ultimately, the fighting in the old world stops long enough for Evie to explain herself. She has facilitated a way out for women. A new world where maybe they'll be treated a little better and this old world, one full of men, will die out. The women are given a choice, some for the first time in their lives, about what to do with themselves.
Several moments in the book that brought to mind current events. There's mention of a politician saying some pretty repugnant things about women and they flat out call out several white police officers who shot and killed unarmed African Americans with no consequences. One moment in particular stuck with me. On Aurora day one, a few high school kids come across a homeless woman who has succumbed to sleep. Another young man is not far behind them. He decides to film them with his phone just in case they do something inappropriate to the woman. Not to show the police or anything, but to show one of his female friends to prove he's a better choice which, to me, proves he isn't. He's almost hoping these boys take advantage of an unconscious woman so can get the girl. The other boys, there are three or four of them, talk about how they could do whatever they wanted to this woman and she'd never know the difference. They settle on puncturing the cocoon over her ear so they can urinate on her face. At this point, I want them to try because, as the reader, I know something they don't know. You shouldn't disturb the cocoon. It's Steubenville with a dash of Brock Turner. And it's pretty disgusting.
Sleeping Beauties has received mixed reviews. Many reviewers saying it reads less like Stephen and more like someone else. I agree, but I attribute that to Owen's influence. I gave it a sold four stars. In Stephen King fashion, I thought it was a tad longer than it needed to be, otherwise it would have been five. I loved the parallels between Evie and Eve. She was helping create a Garden of Eden of sorts for the women of the world, but left it up to them what to do with it.