Sleeping Beauties: Chapter 1

[Sleeping Beauties Content Note: Trans Exclusion and Erasure, Misogyny, Violence Against Women]

Sleeping Beauties Recap: When this book first popped up on my radar, I expressed some concerns about the content on Twitter. This week, I purchased the book and read through it. As I read, I live-tweeted my thoughts on Twitter. This is a compilation and expansion of my tweets. The live-read will be spread out over multiple posts.

Sleeping Beauties, Part One: The Auld Triangle. Chapter 1

(Tweet Link) Because people have asked, yes, the "Eve/Evie" Christian allusions are present and apparently deliberate. I'm not sure how I feel about that in a worldwide setting context. I prefer localized disasters, as why should a single savior of humanity always come from white North America? Premises like these tend to go in racist directions.

"Evie doesn't trust the snake, obviously. She's had trouble with him before."

I'm alarmed that the setting is apparently a woman's prison. This is not a neutral setting when we talk about gender. When I think "woman's prison" right now, the first association I have is with the current fight to get trans women into them. Cis privilege includes the privilege to not have your gender doubted. No matter what crime a cis woman has committed, she's still seen as a woman.Trans women are not granted that same right. Their gender is doubted based on their bodies, their hormones, their crimes, etc. "Should we let trans women in women's prisons if they're a rapist" is something we do not ask about cis women, not even cis women who are rapists of other women. So with that in mind, we come to this poem about a man wishing he were in a female prison.

In the female prison There are seventy women I wish it was with them that I did dwell, Then that old triangle Could jingle jangle Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

This is from a Brendan Behan play, with more context here, but I... I just... why would...? The context of the play is of a man languishing in prison and feeling that if he MUST be in prison, he'd prefer to be in women's company. But without context, it looks more like a free man wishing he could be cloistered up with women who can't escape him. In either case, opening the setting of a woman's prison with a poem about a man wanting in there, is... really tonally discordant. [Note: Having read the book and thought about this more than I should, I think the intention of the quote is to imply that a world without women in it is a prison for men. But if that were the case, I think the analogy fails: the men in the novel are in no way imprisoned or hampered or otherwise stripped of their freedom.]

Chapter 1, Section 1. Ree is in for credit card fraud and drug possession. Jeanette is in for manslaughter. I disappear down a google hole. Jeanette is on "new medication". Google informs me (very quickly, in fact) that medical care in women's prisons is basically non-existent. I... try to be gentle about research, but this is a recent novel from someone who can afford a fact-checker... Maybe it'll be explained.

Chapter 1, Section 2 introduces us to the prison doctor. Dr. Clinton Norcross is a bad doctor so far, but his bad doctoring has been limited to flashbacks so maybe he got/gets better.

Someone needs to help this man, the young doctor found himself thinking, and they ought to do it in a nice, quiet room like this. But should that person be Clinton R. Norcross, MD?

I... I'm genuinely at a loss for words at how bad a doctor this doctor is. What kind of counselor sits and muses about whether this patient deserves them as a counselor, mid-session? How devoid of empathy does someone have to be? I understand having a crisis of "wait, is this what I want to be doing with my life", but mid-session? I'm amazed there's room in the building for Clint's massive throbbing ego.

Wait, that flashback was his second day in a private practice and he was so annoyed at counseling a cheating husband that he changed jobs. He just up and moved to work at the women's prison after two days in private practice. As a psychologist, apparently? Look, I majored in psychology and I don't think it works like that, but okay. That's the end of Section 2 and of my lunch break. I'm kinda sad because the Cheating Husband sounded genuinely poly and he deserved better than Dr. Clinton Norcross.

"And was he judging all men by himself? No. He was a member of the tribe, that was all. It was women who were the real riddles."

In Chapter 3, we learn that Clint--who counsels women and only women for a living--considers women riddles. My concerns deepen. I'm not sure what year it is; the Amazon copy says "In a future so real and near it might be now...", and Jeanette flashes back to 2005. Whereas Clint left his private practice to work at the prison in 1999. So if it's 2018 ("the future"), he's worked there 19 years? I feel like if you worked 19 years counseling women-and-only-women for your day job, you wouldn't consider them all Ineffable Riddles?

Section 4 introduces Evie and........................... I don't. She... she appears to work in or otherwise be visiting an illegal homebrew meth lab and she might be mentally ill, but in that Frail Poetic Wispy Girl way. A dead rabbit hanging on a clothesline "talks" to her, and then she kisses "its crusted black mouth [...] and let it be quiet". I have to admit here that Frail Poetic Wispy Mentally Ill Girl is my least favorite depiction of mental illness.

Wait, okay, can we come back to the cast of characters at the beginning? I realize the women in this novel may have little to do if they're going to be Sleeping Beauties for most of the plot, but there are a lot of women here who are defined only by their relationship to someone else? [Note: The women do indeed have parts in the novel, since we visit them in the Sleeping World. There is no excuse for them to not have actual descriptions of themselves rather than relationships to men in the guide.]

I may have found a way to get a timeline: Dr. Clint is 48 years old. We know that his first psychiatry job was in 1999. Oh! And it does say "eighteen years earlier, in 1999"! So... it's... it's 2017? We have already remarked on this, but the Amazon advert copy writing was very very bad. Not Mr. King's fault, but now we have a timeline. So this is NOT the "future", it's the present. And the mysterious sleeping illness hasn't hit yet. Good. I am oriented now.

The North Korean government insisted that the damage was minor due to “superior architecture,” but there was cell phone footage of dusty bodies and rubble.
Cell phone use in North Korea is also controlled by the government. While mobile phones are now a popular gateway to the Internet in the South, for North Koreans cell phones are used for domestic calls. They can't access the Internet or make overseas calls.

Various disasters lead up to the Disease, but... North Koreans have cell phones that upload pictures now? But I thought...? I could be wrong! This is not my area of expertise at all. But this is the sort of thing I would google while writing? It's...? I feel like I'm ripping on this book and I don't mean to rip on the book, I'm just honestly confused by the setting and the everything.

When people learned that Clint was a psychiatrist, they often entreated him to diagnose the mental diseases of politicians, celebrities, and other notables. He usually demurred, but in this instance he felt comfortable making a long-distance diagnosis: Kinsman Brightleaf was suffering from some kind of dissociative disorder.

Oh, Clint. You and I are not going to be friends, I see. Diagnosing people who are not your patients is unethical, immoral, and contributes to stigma against mental illness. (Reminder that not all protagonists have to be perfect, and this is a realistic flaw for a psychiatrist to have. Maybe he'll get better!)

Jared Norcross, 16

He had been toying with the idea of giving the kid condoms, but he didn’t want to talk to Lila about it and he didn’t want to encourage anything. He didn’t want to be thinking about it at all. Jared insisted he and Mary were just friends, and maybe Jared even believed it. Clint saw how he looked at the girl, though, and it was the way you looked at someone you wanted to be your very, very close friend.

Oh my god, CLINT. He's SIXTEEN.

HAVE THE CONDOM BUCKET AND THE TALK BEFORE SIXTEEN, PLS. This is so poignantly sweet and sad all at once, except that people's lives hinge on the sex talk so heavier emphasis on sad.

and doctors in Australia were reporting an outbreak of sleeping sickness that seemed to affect only women.

Chapter 6 opens with prisoner labor (good issue to highlight!) and we get our first glimpse of the Sleeping Sickness. So we have to ask: what does that mean when we say it "seemed to affect only women"?

The TV news was now showing the mug shot of an escaped convict. “Oh man,” Angel said. “He put the lie to black is beautiful, don’t he?” Jeanette did not comment. The fact was, she still liked guys with mean eyes.

Why in the name of Satan's left nostril hairs would you write these sentences? You... could write anything else? You could write "he's ugly!" You don't have to dig at Black Is Beautiful? [Note: We later learn that Jeanette is Black. She could have reacted here, even mentally, and pushed back against this stigmatizing. For the record: I never could figure out Angel's race despite trying.]

Okay, another woman is talking about Dr. Clint--they talk about him a lot--and there's mention again of him giving out good medicines. Here's an article on some issues prison counselors face, like being able to get hired at all. And yes, when they are hired, some prisons expect them to just medicate the prisoners into a docile stupor--which is bad! Dr. Clint is apparently a better person than that and is giving necessary medications to patients and that's good! But it's all presented as... very easy? and humane? I feel like there are medication, ableism, and stigma barriers being glossed over.

I'm suddenly deeply worried that Dr. Clint may start medically experimenting on the women once the sickness gets here. [Note: This doe not happen, which is good! What is strange, is that no one tries to experiment in any way on the women. There's no attempt whatsoever to wake the afflicted except for an ineffective brute force "pull the cocoon off them" method that doesn't work. No one takes vitals, no one tries medication. It's jarring and surreal--it's like they've all read the back of the book and they know this is a spiritual thriller rather than a medical one.]

“Screaming that the Black Queen is coming,” Maura said. “Says she’ll be here today.”  “Aretha coming to put on a show?” Angel asked. “She’s the only black queen I know.”

In the year of our lord 2017, Stephen King and his characters have never heard of Beyoncé. How. How is that possible. Explain this. I am not trying to be mean! I just. How... is Aretha the only....? I just? I just? I just don't understand how it's possible. Even if you didn't know about Queen Bey, wouldn't you use Michelle Obama? The white people know about her! Right? She's even mentioned in this novel elsewhere! (I mean... if you didn't want to use real people, there are other possible reactions to write! but also Aretha is a real, live person, so! [Note: Angel is 27 years old, which makes her younger than Beyoncé.]

Update: Donald Trump exists in this novel. I was wondering. Brief mention so far, unsure if he's president. [Note: No. It is never mentioned who is president in 2017. Hillary Clinton can't be president, though, or she would've surely been mentioned in a later passage listing examples of how women have gotten too uppity and risen above their station by taking jobs and wearing pants.]

Section 7 is confusing, not least because the first name in the Cast of Characters is murdered almost immediately. Why is his name first? Truman Mayweather, 26 years old, meth cook, is killed by a bare-handed woman wearing his shirt--apparently Evie/Eve. She also bare-handedly kills his gun-toting enforcer, and saves his addicted 28 year old cousin, Tiffany Jones. Tiffany Jones is described in the cast of characters as "Truman's cousin" and Truman is now dead. I have... I have some feels. [Note: Tiffany recurs later in the novel. She should not have been listed merely as a cousin to a less-important character.]

Her footprints appeared behind her, white and small and delicate, shapes that came from nowhere and seemed to be made of milkweed fluff. The hem of her borrowed shirt fluttered around her long thighs.   Evie rolled the advertising circular into a tube and began to snap the fingers of her left hand beneath the protruding end. A spark jumped at each snap. On the third one, the paper flared alight. Evie could grill, too.

I... okay.

Eve is magic.



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