I read several books this month. One of them I technically started in January, so perhaps I should say I finished several books. Either way, it's been a literary roller coaster.
Three of the books were fiction. One of them I'd wanted to read for months. One of them I'd only just heard of a few days before I picked it up, and the last one I saw at the library without a clue what it was about, just a red cover, black hand and intriguing title.
I didn't know what to expect with this book because I'd never heard of it. I did see it once on Amazon, as one of those recommended, you-might-like books. When I saw it at the library, I felt compelled because the review on the cover is by none other than Margaret Atwood. It's not that I'm a huge Atwood fan, but that name is so recognizable in the literary world and so esteemed, I took notice.
I suppose that was the point, and it worked. I checked the book out and took it with me to have a quick glance at the first chapter that evening in the bath.
The first chapter was....difficult. Many of you know how I feel about troubling subjects and the penchant I feel modern fiction has for taking 'show don't tell' a little bit too far. I felt this initial chapter falling squarely into this category, and by the end of the first ten pages, I was ready to chuck the book to the side, roll my eyes and declare it another stun-you-with-violence-and-tragedy attention seeker.
Then it got good.
The premise is that young girls/women (about aged 15) are showing up across the globe with the power to direct energy from their hands. That's perhaps not the best explanation.
Here is what Amazon says about the book:
In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power--they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.
From award-winning author Naomi Alderman, THE POWER is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways.
The story is told from multiple POVs, which seems typical of current writing. I don't normally love this style of writing, but in this case, Alderman does it so deftly and with such ease that it's almost unnoticeable. I began looking forward to each character's story. Each chapter is written tightly, with a kind of zoomed-in feel that leaves no room for mentally wandering.
Over the course of the book, the individual plot lines converge, of course, to shape the big-picture theme Alderman's story grapples with. For me, the theme was power and the way it shapes the players related to power - that is, the people in power, the people without power and the way our behavior shifts and molds to the status of power.
Alderman plays with ideas we all have, preconceived and often below the surface, about power, about what would happen if certain people held power vs. other people holding the same power. It is a thought-provoking novel, and just when I thought I'd come up with my answers regarding power in general, Alderman would throw another kink in the plan, so to speak, and I'd start thinking all over again.
Alderman's writing is tight. She does dialogue extremely well. There are a few sections of online message board comments that felt so real it was disturbing, not just because of the realness of them but, of course, of the context within the plot.
I found each of the characters believable, but I will say that each character is somewhat of an outlier. There aren't any average Joe's in this book. There is a kid from foster care who's been moved around from tragedy to tragedy. There's a woman running for high-level political office (and her family); there's a girl attached to a powerful crime family. It's easy to use these sorts of situations to draw out conflict and magnify the poignancy of a power shift based on these situations of incredible vulnerability.
In this way, the story becomes more situational than character-driven, which seems strange because the characters are so intense and well-done, but I think the lives of the characters were what gave them such texture.
What would a shift in the balance of power mean, say, to an average American housewife, maybe upper-middle class, maybe educated, maybe not lacking for money, perhaps not suffering abuse?
It takes a lot of skill to write that story.
Of course, perhaps from a global perspective, an upper-middle class housewife may be the ultimate outlier.
Getting back to The Power, there were so many well-written, on-point, stunning moments of writing throughout this book. Alderman isn't covering up her agenda, and while I don't always love a book with a political/social agenda, I appreciated the transparency of hers.
My favorite quote from the book is on page 360:
Simple feels safe. Certainty feels safe.
Isn't that the truth?
I'll say the book starts to go of the rails a bit as it goes on. There are moments when it seems surreal, which is obviously the point, but as a reader, I felt a little disconnected and lost. It all began to seem post-apocalyptic. Of that, I am not a fan. I think Alderman could have cut this book by 50 pages. By the end, I cared less about the characters than I did at the beginning. I'm not sure if that was her intent or is some sort of literary device I'm unaware of. Either way, I wasn't disappointed when the book came to an end.
And here, at the end, is where The Power is most brilliant. I won't spoil it, but I will say this: the entire book was worth it if for no other reason than the last sentence.
If anyone has read this book or intends to read this book, I'd love to hear what you think. This is about the best book club pick I can think of. I can only imagine the discussions.
If you want fast-paced, gripping, though-provoking and well-written, read The Power.
Verdict: 4 stars