Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Women's Work by Kari Aguila

Title: Women's Work
Author: Kari Aguila
Original Publication Date: November 16, 2013
Pages: 298

I knew my male to female author ratio was severely disproportionate with the scale undeniably tipping on the expected side. So I try, along with my many reading projects, to incorporate the ideal that such imbalance be rectified if not in an achievable and realistically acceptable equilibrium then at least the consolatory mindset that nobility exists in a task faithfully pursued such as this.

Then I thought, what better way to pursue this end, when by happenstance, I stumbled upon this book, which claims to present women’s struggles in a post-apocalyptic world, written no less by a female author.

Women's Work tells us the story of Kate and her family who struggles to survive in world ridden no less by male chauvinists who by all measures are extremist in their professed bigotry. In this world, the women have taken over all aspects, and when I say all, I meant everything. The men have not only been relegated but were also reeducated of their social roles. They stay in the house, are not allowed to speak in town or council meetings, they are, in all respects, abrogated of any capacity less the frivolous and mundane.

The concept was a fascinating one, the reversal of the socially constructed gender roles, the reaction of the male population to such extreme reversal, these were some of the things I was expecting in
Women's Work, but what struck me more was that this was the quandary of a single mother finding love in a society where a Man is not defined by any new established social convention but by the acts of his predecessors of the same biological orientation. This too was a novel more for the parenting of a single mother. There is less of the expected grand narrative of the noble struggle of survival in a post-apocalyptic world but only the fear of imagined and anticipated horrors that sublimely define the characters’ psychologies.

There are a number of things you have to get around to appreciate this.

The world building premise is anchored on the arrangement that the male contemporaries have orchestrated the government to pass laws banning birth control without the husband’s consent, to the regulation of what they could and could not wear, leading to more pivotal and drastic actions like the banning and removal of women from politics and the military. The premise world is an extremely male chauvinistic society.  If you get around that you can move on with the story, which leads us to the next point.

The novel presents a comprehensive and absolute dichotomy between the male and the female sexes, an instance which, even in fiction I might add, is highly improbable unless we discount the existence of certain radical, idealistic individuals, or group of individuals. This is the perfect embodiment of a class fighting for its own liberation from domination and believes itself to be fighting for human freedom and was able to appeal to an idea present  in all who are oppressed which however in the long and virtually continuous battle for freedom, the classes who were fighting against oppression at one stage sided with the enemies of freedom when victory was won and new privileges were to be defended. Because it tries to take on this grand extremist scenario of men vs. women, the story failed on the microcosm, I was expecting a more immersed perspective in presenting the difficulties of a woman in a possible post-apocalyptic world, like that of raising a young boy in such well delineated social arrangement, or that of the greater need for security. I have to point out that the concern for security in relation to the man in this novel cannot be included, for even in the beginning, subtle sexual proclivities can be read between Kate and the man, no real concern for security exist there.

The children too are a tad unrealistic. They were perfect, much too perfect. They followed all commands, did not answer back, did not worry about their father lost in the war, they communicated with their parents. Because they were perfect, they were all the same and hence no reasonable character development existed. Because they were perfect, they were an anachronistic existence in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s just hard to imagine that these children whose life are peppered with bomb craters, raider threats, women armed with arrows and knives are presented in such a faultless existence.

To me, the characters fail because they are perfect. The power struggle fails because the conflict is grounded on the belief that the differences among genders are defined only by their biological orientations.

The writing style is admirable, with the occasional rough transitions and forced conversations, considering this to be the first work of the author. Still, much thanks, Kari, for my copy! I look forward to your growth as writer!
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