Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
This is the latest from one of the master storytellers of our time, and his son. Sleeping Beauties is an epic along the lines of his previous offering, The Dome. It is also one that will grip you tightly and drag you willingly as its mate into an apocalyptic future.
The small town of Dooling, West Virginia, is the glorious setting for a tale of what if. The what if in this instance raises the question of what would happen if all the females of the world were no longer in society. It’s an intriguing premise, and designed to tackle the misogyny that sadly pervades our societies. It succeeds.
There are quite a number of central characters who share with us their experiences as, one by one, the world’s females fall asleep and can’t be safely reawakened. The condition doesn’t begin in Dooling, but the Appalachian town becomes the central nexus in determining the fate of the world’s womanhood and, consequently, humanity.
Young, old, sick, fit, big, small, grumpy, happy, pregnant, evil, not, all start to fall asleep naturally yet won’t waken up. As they sleep, they are enveloped in a cocoon which lends them some protection. But if the cocoon is tore or tampered with, the occupant rises in a psychopathic rage to attack the adult responsible. There’s no point in shaking your ma to get her to make your dinner or iron your favourite t-shirt as she will simply bite your face off, literally. Children are exempted from such ferocious attacks due to the strong maternal instincts that cannot be diminished entirely. Impatient and badly advised men, however, manage to suffer various forms of gruesome death – a bit like joining the military. It’s all testy stuff, kinda like really bad PMS.
We are introduced to, and placed in the interesting company of, Tiffany Jones, a meth-addict with an unfortunate past (as all addicts have); Sheriff Lila Norcross who plays a central role as she fights to stay awake and keep her town safe; Frank Geary, animal control officer with serious anger management issues; Dr Garth Flickinger, meth addict and plastic surgeon (how’d you like him to cut you open?); Eric Blass, high school student and really sick fucker; Don Peters, guard at Dooling women’s prison and a really, really sick fucker; Janice Coates, Warden of the women’s prison; Dr Clinton Norcross, husband of Lila and psychiatrist at the women’s prison; Angel Fitzroy, inmate at the prison and resident psycho; Jeanette Sorley, inmate at the prison and nice enough person; Michaela Morgan, TV presenter, daughter of Janice Coates and sexy as hell; a fox, who keeps popping up and seems fairly smug and hard to truly like, and Eve Black, a stranger to the town with preternatural strength and supernatural abilities. Eve is also the key to the sleeping pandemic.
As the conscious female population reduces dramatically, the normal brakes that exist to curb the worst excesses of male behaviour fade. The result is a chaotic society where many men somewhat rashly opt to kill themselves rather than live without their womenfolk, whereas others engage in sprees of one kind or another as they begin to blame women for all the troubles in their own lives.
In Dowling, Eve is arrested by Sheriff Norcross – well Eve is buck ass naked, covered in blood and suspected of killing two hoods – who places her in the protective custody of the local women’s correctional facility. As the crisis deepens, it becomes apparent that the mysterious Eve is the only woman who can sleep and waken as normal. No cocoon for Eve. This news filters out, and the men of the town, some with honourable reasoning, decide that they must seize Eve from the reluctant prison authorities in the hope that she can provide an antidote to the disease that is preventing home cooked dinners, trousers with no creases, as well as sex involving more than one person’s hand.
However, Eve, who is prescient, notifies Dr Norcross of the plans afoot (always wanted to use that word, afoot, there I did it again) as well as the disastrous consequences for humanity should they succeed. As the Sheriff and Warden both succumb to the sleeping sickness, Dr Norcross is left with the sizable responsibility of keeping Eve safe, thus ensuring the survival of the human race. A siege ensues.
Yet we learn that it is not all bad for the fairer sex as they slumber. It turns out that the Land of Nod is not so terrible, as the women enter a new world with an absence of men. It is there that they begin to build a new society, as time moves faster than in the world they left. Rebel Voice imagines that the first thing they would do would be to invent anti-aging cream. No woman wants to grow older faster. Stevie King didn’t think of that when scripting this tale (bloody amateur).
The world on the other side of female sleep is freed from testosterone and smelly farts, and men scratching their genitals and eyeing women’s genitals. In fact genitals don’t play that big a role in the new world other than for the gay women (needs is as needs must for some) and those who were pregnant when they dropped off. Children are born in the Land of Nod, including boys, so at least the species will survive there. It seems that women are going to be OK as they sleep, but there’s a catch. They must also remain safe in the cocoons back in their previous lives. That doesn’t always happen. Confused? You should be.
There are some aspects to Sleeping Beauties that don’t add up. For example, what happens if you damage the cocoon surrounding a female baby? They can hardly bite your face off if they have no teeth. Also, did all the new babies born in Nod make it back or were they also born within the cocoons and there were, therefore, two of them? There are also inconsistencies in the behaviour of the abandoned men. Groups, such as the Blowtorch Brigades, spring up. Yet such are a tenuous suggestion designed to paint men in an extremely negative light. Whilst there is no doubt that a world without women would become increasingly violent – and chock full of masturbation – it is doubtful if many men would behave in the extreme ways presented in Sleeping Beauties. I suspect that Stephen King was on a promise with his good wife Tabitha. She likely assured him that he would receive a see-through-black-nightie night if he wrote a story condemning men on a global scale. I sincerely hope that randy Steve got his oats for this one.
Still, the story has pace and substance. It tackles tough issues and highlights the ways in which women are all too regularly abused by men. The characters are many, varied and mostly believable. The setting is great. Sleeping Beauties has all the hallmarks of Stephen King. It’s not certain what his son, Owen, contributed. I don’t want to be unkind as I haven’t read any of Owen’s writing previously, but this seems to be all his auwl fella’s work. What is certain is that the King boys don’t much like Donald Trump who takes a pasting in this epic novel, and for that Rebel Voice commends them. The story-line itself is timely, given the current #meToo movement which shines a spotlight on misogyny and the abuse of women, primarily in the Entertainment Industry.
There’s no doubt about it, we men must do better in our attitudes towards the female of our species. Sleeping Beauties is a good book with a great message. It will hook you and hold you, and may challenge you to rethink your perceptions. Stephen King has scored highly again, and I look forward to the screen adaptation. Those movies and series that follow King Stories are usually fairly strong.
Sult scale rating: 7.5 out of 10. Recommended, although not his best work. It is to a high standard though.