The war on women becomes a war of women as Sleeping Beauties, an oddly bloated collaboration between Stephen King and his son Owen King nears its climax. Odd because King senior is no stranger to expansive narratives and customarily keeps a firm grip on their pace, but this 700-page effort seems to buckle under the dual – perhaps competing – energies of its creators, who undermine an intriguing premise with an inexcusable amount of repetition: what is happening to the female residents of the town of Dooling is bizarre enough to need no belabouring.
In one (blunt, nuance-free) reading, Sleeping Beauties is an allegory for the plight of women in the age of Trump. The current American president is never mentioned by name, but he seems to stalk the pages much as he did his female rival on the debate stage, and the Blowtorch Brigades who track down and dispatch the novel’s slumbering women aren’t a million miles away from the tiki torch-bearing marchers in Charlottesville.
In a more literal reading, it is an epic fantasy novel based on the premise that nearly all the female population of the town of Dooling, including the inmates of a women’s prison, succumbs to a mysterious sickness. When they fall asleep, they become cocooned in a gossamer web that emerges from their skin, and they remain alive and still indefinitely, with no need for food or water. If disturbed – if, say, a concerned husband tries to brush the sticky film from the face of his unresponsive wife – the woman awakens as a violent zombie who can only be stopped with savage force.
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