Sleeping Beauties: Part 2, 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 Two: I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. Chapter 1

(Tweet Link) Twitter is breaking the threading in my unreasonably long live-tweet, so this is Part 2 for Sleeping Beauties by King and King.

The first page of Part 2 shows us Lila in the sleeping world, so I assume her job will be to argue mankind's case to the women? I'm already losing the last dregs of my interest, because is this why King punted and made Clint innocent of adultery? Because if it goes "yes, I once thought men are awful but it turns out my egotistical emotionally distant husband didn't cheat" then ungh.

Even Picard--who did this premise better 20 years ago--didn't defend humanity by finding one faithful man in Sodom. Clint can't work as an innocent, not narratively-speaking. If he'd been a hypocritical adulterer and then had an epiphany, he'd show bad men can get better. As it is, if he's an innocent man wrongly accused of infidelity, he's just a Not All Men, and women know Not-All-Men exist. It's not a secret!

Furthermore, I have to quibble with the idea that the Aurora will wipe out humanity as soon as the last boy baby dies of old age. We have a bieberbillion number of frozen eggs and frozen embryos, and have been pursing artificial wombs for some time now. There's also cloning possibilities, and any anti-human-clone-research laws will be lifted as soon as possible after the Aurora. King thinks a "world without women" would die out, but in the absence of women, we'd invent new ways to continue. Humanity does that.

Now I'm not trying to make the horror book a scifi, but... It's not a horror book either, now is it? "Q puts humanity on trial" plot isn't horror. I'm not horrified by this premise. The creepy moths are now Q and therefore known and boring. Q is an excellent antagonist, but he is not horror. Now I'm going to go yell in the shower my important thoughts. Be back in a bit.

Oh god, will all the women being burned alive and murdered in the real world know in the sleeping world that this is being done to them? That'd affect my vote to come back. The more I think about it, I'm angry that the "fight back" reflex--which I assumed was a safety thing for rape survivor readers like me--is the excuse to kill them. Because what's the intended message here? Fighting off rape gets you killed? These women would be safer if they were more helpless? Christ. I can't be satisfied with the "rapist gets killed" scene when that's immediately used to introduce the Burnings! Gross!

Part 2. Lila is in the dream world and sees her house after time and fire has happened. Ruin and disarray. No other women yet.

Frank is... guys, Frank is a mess. Frank was previously established as a domestic tyrant who knew how to be good and wanted to be good but had anger impulse issues. Now Frank is a patient, long-game focused, silver-tongued manipulator that would put Satan himself to shame. This is a Fenimore Cooper level of bad characterization.

Frank is also black. Deputy and now Acting Sheriff Terry decides he's not too prejudice to be friends with a black man as he was before this disaster happened so Terry now lets Frank manipulate him into making Frank deputy. Frank then Wormtongues Terry up with a steady stream from his hip flask. Frank is too broad shouldered for uniforms to fit him, controls Terry like a ventriloquist, and his eyes "case the place" when he studies the prison. He was a government employee before this (the town's only Animal Control officer) but he apparently has innate criminal instincts. Because he's too big for the deputy uniforms to fit him, he's now walking around town in an A-shirt (a "wife beater" on a wife beater, how droll) because he's too burly for regular clothes to fit.

White Authors: Don't do any of this shit, literally any of it, what the hell.

Three days pass in a blink. I turn a page, three days have gone. WHAT. There's no female agency in this. No talk of the remaining 30% fleeing to a safe bunker once the Burings of the sleepers start. None. Just a rapid fast forward of "yeah nothing much happened over the weekend" to get the rest of the women asleep.

Clint has locked down the prison. I don't even know if he got Lila's body to safety. ("OUTLANDER. WE HAVE YOUR WOMAN, OUTLANDER!") Clint has locked down the prison to protect the sleeping inmates and Eve. Why would you do this, exactly? Eve is immune. Clint doesn't want the town to know Eve is immune. Fair. Why not drive her to the CDC? Washington? Somewhere? Has Clint just accepted the terms of their supernatural arrangement? (We haven't gotten in his head yet, so I don't know.)

Terry wants in to see Eve because Frank is obsessed with Eve and Frank is controlling Terry. Clint says the lockdown is state protocol, hands tied, but that Eve is asleep and cocooned so it doesn't matter anyway. Clint texts them a picture of a cocooned sleeper, but Frank isn't fooled and his eyes case the place and he's scary clever and Terry is his parrot. Yet if Clint has accepted Eve's framing, the countdown on the trial for mankind surely doesn't start until the men know about her, right? So Clint's lying about her being asleep only hurts his case as her eventual defender. Clint is establishing himself as an untrustworthy enemy. Every moment he delays, more women are burned. So... characterization?

Clint's POV is painful to inhabit now that I know his egotism is meant to tell us he's awesome rather than show us he's a tool. He has not attempted to "sell" the other men in the prison on Eve's story, denying them agency. There can be only one Rational Man in the novel, it seems. The other male officers are determined to protect Eve because an immune woman could lead to a cure. Fair. But. Why don't they call a local doctor in, or move her? Why lie to the townspeople? I'm glad you asked!

She was too precious to risk, that was the but. If they handed Evie over to the wrong people and things went sideways, if someone lost their temper and killed her—perhaps out of simple frustration, perhaps because they needed a scapegoat—what good would she be then to anyone’s mothers and wives and daughters?

Here's the attempt to spackle the plot hole of "why keep her parked in the prison then?" She's "too precious to risk". This is....!! They have no reason to think that the cocoons have magic life support! Time is of the essence! A cure is needed now!! Women are dying all over earth (both from the Burnings and possibly from the cocoons), they know this, and they're sitting on a cure like "well we can't take her to a doctor, they might fuck up".

@alexandraerin *whispers* The horror is that *men* are being put on trial by a *woman*.

I keep coming back to this like a mental block I can't work around because it explains everything. This isn't a book for anyone not a cis man. The horror parts for me were the parts that would affect me, but those parts are glossed over. We're not going to dwell on the terror of being the last few women on earth to fall asleep, or the Burnings and how helpless the women are to avoid them, or the terror of falling asleep while the Burnings are happening and you know they're coming.

No, the "real" horror the book wants to dwell on is how the cis men are affected by a plague that took "their" women away. And so much of it is contradictory. All the men on-page are motivated to save their women, so why are there mass burnings in the background? Even Frank, here playing the role of Wormtongue Satan, just wants his daughter to be safe and cured.

And forget Evie as an interview subject, Clint told his (very) thin blue line. She couldn’t or wouldn’t tell anyone anything. She seemed not to have the remotest idea of what was so special about her biology. Plus, immune or not, Eve Black was a psychopath who’d planted a pair of meth cookers.

Clint, who is very bad at his role, reminds his male staff that the woman they're keeping alive is a murderer. Motivation. Why are plague plots always so bio-essentialist? No one ever considers environmental factors! Maybe Eve is immune because she killed two meth cookers that day. Maybe touching meth cures you. Maybe meth + pine residue is the cure. I'm not a doctor! I'm an average Joe who watches the occasional medical sitcom. If I think of this stuff, your characters will and should!

Meanwhile, for the benefit of this scenario, Clint had been making regular calls to the CDC. Since the guys in Atlanta didn’t answer—repeated calls yielded nothing but a recorded announcement or the same busy signal as on the Thursday the crisis started—he was discussing matters with a branch of the CDC that happened to be located on the second floor of an empty house on Tremaine Street. Its number was Lila’s cell.

Clint has attempted to call the CDC, but they aren't taking calls at this time. I have a lot of feels about this I need to break down. Clint is lying to everyone. In a realistic setting (which this doesn't seem to be), he would be hurtling towards disaster. The male guards agree that Eve needs to be gotten to the CDC. But Clint is lying to them, making them think he's covered that angle. How long could this possibly work? They know Clint isn't taking blood samples or mailing anything out. This wouldn't fool a toddler!

"We still need you to come get her," Clint whines into the phone for the audience and I just. *lays head on desk* This isn't real. Why aren't the CDC picking up the phone? There would be an 800 number line set up, dammit. "If you know anything, call..." Yes, there would be pandemonium. Yes, they would have to sift through millions of messages. But it would still be done. All those men who are out of work would be deputized to fill these new, vital roles. Work to keep them going, to keep them alive. This is what humans do in a crisis: we volunteer for work that makes us feel useful and helping. Listening to recorded messages on a crisis line and calling back the ones who seem to have a "lead" would be good busy work.

It also may have helped that Billy, Rand, and Scott were young and unmarried, and that Tig, the oldest of the bunch by twenty years, was divorced without kids. They had even seemed to acclimate, after some grumbling, to Clint’s insistence that everyone’s safety depended on no more personal calls being made.

Clint is incredibly passive. Why doesn't he drive Eve somewhere? He keeps saying she's "dangerous" and a "murderer" but that's no excuse. He's worked with murderers for 20 years in prison, for god's own sake! By having Clint lie to everyone, he's narratively the only man "in the know" about Eve's situation. The other men are disconnected limbs. How can you have a drama about whether men are worth saving when it ultimately boils down to whether one good man exists on earth? This is literally the "ten good men in Sodom" plot and it's...

*beats head on desk*

No one in feminism seriously thinks that the problem with men is that they're all irredeemably evil to a core! This is like if one of the Kings saw "kill all men" on Twitter and was like "hmm, but what if one good man exists? y/n, then?" Clint has just... completely accepted that either Eve is the real deal OR humanity is doomed. No thought to a cure whatsoever.

How long the men would stay resolved, Clint couldn’t hazard a guess. He just hoped they could be persuaded to hang on until he could either change Evie’s mind and get her to cooperate in a way that made sense, or the sun rose on Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or whenever, and she was satisfied. If what she claimed was true. If it wasn’t . . . Then it didn’t matter. But until it didn’t matter, it did.

Please note that bottom passage: "Unlike Lila, who had given up." The reader--and the author--knows that Lila gave up and fell asleep on purpose. Clint does not and cannot. Yes, she pinned a "please hide my body" note to her shirt, but to jump from being prepared for sleep to wanting sleep is... no. No. So this is either Clint having a direct line to the author (which is bad writing we should all avoid) or Clint being an asshole. Pick.

Also? the reason Lila gave up was because she didn't think she was safe to drive without vehicularly killing herself or someone else. None of the zillion men in her life were willing to, yaknow, drive her to where she needed to go next. She was being responsible and not risking her own life and the lives of others.

Frank is obsessed with Evie, which makes no sense unless he's read the back of the book jacket. Like, the only report he's had of Evie existing at all was from drunken disgruntled rapist ex-guard Dan Peters who swears he saw Evie nap. Yes, humans fixate on possible cures, but why is this the only fixation available for Frank to fixate on. There would be other stories of awake women to fixate on. (I remind you this novel hinges on trans women being identifiable at a glance.) There would be news of cures, vaccines, of this or that other hope dangled for Frank to grab. Why is he focused on this one unlikely rumor?

Please note the optics of the big burly black man being focused on obtaining by force the body of Eve, mother of all women. The fact that I'm surprised this was written is my own racism manifesting; I doubt many people of color reading along are surprised.

“We could use his wife.” “Huh?” Terry stared at Frank. “Lila? Say what?” “Offer a swap,” he said. “You give us Eve Black, we give you your wife.” “Why would he go for that?” Terry asked. “He knows we’d never hurt her.” When Frank didn’t reply to this, Terry grabbed Frank by the shoulder. “We would never hurt her, Frank. Never. You get that, right?”

Annnnnnnnnnnd I already called the "outlander, we have your woman, outlander" threat. Children of the Corn came out in 1984, you can't keep writing the same damsel in distress, dammit. Good grief, the optics of a black man in West Virginia wanting to take hostage the white woman sheriff that everyone knows and loves? Terry was her deputy and her friend! Terry liked, respected, and platonically loved Lila! This doesn't read like "men will turn on us given the chance" a la Stepford Wives, it reads like "Frank has magic Wormtongue powers".


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