Book Review: Roar by Cecelia Ahern

 

From the bestselling author of P.S., I Love You, a fiercely feminist story collection that illuminates–sometimes in fantastical ways–how women of all kinds navigate the world today.

In this singular and imaginative story collection, Cecelia Ahern explores the endless ways in which women blaze through adversity with wit, resourcefulness, and compassion. Ahern takes the familiar aspects of women’s lives–the routines, the embarrassments, the desires–and elevates these moments to the outlandish and hilarious with her astute blend of magical realism and social insight.

One woman is tortured by sinister bite marks that appear on her skin; another is swallowed up by the floor during a mortifying presentation; yet another resolves to return and exchange her boring husband at the store where she originally acquired him. The women at the center of this curious universe learn that their reality is shaped not only by how others perceive them, but also how they perceive the power within themselves.

By turns sly, whimsical, and affecting, these thirty short stories are a dynamic examination of what it means to be a woman in this very moment. Like women themselves, each story can stand alone; yet together, they have a combined power to shift consciousness, inspire others, and create a multi-voiced ROAR that will not be ignored.

Roar is a collection of fantastical stories, rooted in the real world, in which the unnamed women at the heart of the different tales experience life through a series of metaphors that have somehow become reality.

The titles of these 30 stories all begin with the words The Woman Who. Each focuses on a woman experiencing some sort of literal manifestation of the types of issues we all encounter more figuratively in our worlds.

The collection opens strong with The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared. The premise is very reminiscent of the season 1 Buffy episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight, about a high school girl whose peers never seem to notice her, and who ends up becoming invisible. In this story, the main character is a woman in her 50s who has gradually faded, becoming less seen over time as she ages, becoming unnoteworthy to the crowds of people around her:

On the worst days, she would go home feeling completely overwhelmed and desperate. She would look in the mirror just to make sure she was still there, to keep reminding herself of that fact; she even took to carrying a pocket mirror for those moments on the subway when she was sure she had vanished.

After fading away to just a glimmer, the woman finally finds hope in the care of a doctor who provides a diagnosis and treatment plan:

“Women need to see women, too,” Professor Montgomery says. “If we don’t see each other, if we don’t see ourselves, how can we expect anybody else to?”

In The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf, a woman’s husband builds her a shelf where he can display and admire her, but over the years of her marriage, she finds the shelf keeps her on the sidelines of the life around her.

She’s spent so many years sitting up here representing an extension of  Ronald, of his achievements, that she no longer has any idea what she represents to herself.

Other favorites of mine are the stories The Woman Who Walked in Her Husband’s Shoes, The Woman Who Was a Featherbrain, and the The Woman Who Was Pigeonholed. But really, they’re all terrific. The tales are simple. You might at first glance find the premise a little obvious, but really, taken as a whole, these fables illustrated different aspects of what it means to be a woman, how we are defined by society, ourselves, and each other, and how perception and awareness can change everything. There’s a lightness and humor in many stories, even as the situations, taken to their logical (or illogical) conclusion can be nightmarish.

In The Woman Who Wore Pink, there’s an actual Gender Police that issues warnings and fines as people step outside their prescribed gender roles, with all of one’s interactions — even down to the daily Starbucks order, being identified as either “penis” or “vagina”. It takes the woman’s six-year-old daughter’s angry argument, “If I”m not me, who else am I supposed to be?” for the woman to open her eyes and consider the pointlessness of separating all habits and options into either penis or vagina categories. There’s a particularly funny episode after the daughter is denied the “penis” Happy Meal that comes with a dinosaur, as the woman starts to question why dinosaurs are considered boy-appropriate only:

“I’m just saying. I mean, there were female dinosaurs, too, you know, and I don’t think any of them were pink.”

I ended up loving this entire collection. The thirty stories are a mix of far-fetched, grounded in the familiar, comedic, and painful. All are told in a straight-forward manner, where we take the fantastical elements as reality and are faced with considering how our world’s definitions of women’s lives and women’s roles might look if all the euphemisms and catchphrases for the assumptions and barriers facing women became literal parts of the everyday world.

Roar is a fun, thought-provoking set of stories with plenty to chew on. I think it would be a great choice for a book club to discuss. Reading this book made me wish for a group of friends with copies in their hands, so we could each pick a favorite story and compare notes — and imagine ourselves literally falling through the floor, unraveling, melting down, or discovering our very own strong suit.

Check it out!

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The details:

Title: Roar
Authors: Cecelia Ahern
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: April 16, 2018
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Short stories
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher


Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

Vox is a look at a United States where the government has been taken over — not by force, but by the power of the voting booth. A magnetic leader of the Christian right has rallied his followers to vote for his puppet candidate, and suddenly, the US government is in the hands of people who very much want to restore the country to a time when women stayed home, cared for their families, and were seen but not heard.

AP science classes in high school are replaced by AP Religious Studies, focusing on Christian philosophy. Boys and girls are educated separately, with girls’ studies focusing on home economics and basic math — just enough to be able to run a household, not enough to actually encourage higher thinking or learning.

Most insidious of all, all females in the population are fitted with metal counters on their wrists, tracking their allotment of 100 words per day. Woe betide the woman who talks in her sleep! Every utterance counts. And if you exceed your daily allotment, you receive a nasty little reminder by way of electric shock.

We view this warped world through the eyes of Dr. Jean McClellan, an esteemed neurolinguist who, like all professional women, is denied her work, her money, and her independence. She’s reliant on her husband for everything, and even her jerky teen-aged son has more autonomy than she does, spouting off his anti-woman rhetoric that he’s so quickly absorbed through the poisoned atmosphere of school.

It’s a compelling and intriguing set-up, and the writing keeps the plot move along at a fast pace. While the book focuses on the awfulness of this society and the punishments meted out to those who dare bend or break the rules, it’s quite chilling. The story becomes less compelling in the final third, as the tone shifts more to scientific thriller and away from the greater societal upheavals at play.

I found the premise mostly implausible. I’ve read several of these types of books by now, and the key to making me believe in them is in providing enough information to make the world of the book feel real and possible. Vox fails to truly establish how we got from our current society to the society of the book in just one year. How exactly did the people in charge come up with the counters and get them installed on all women? How did they manage to enforce the new society so quickly and with so little opposition? There isn’t enough backstory here to make me believe in it, and that ended up being an obstacle for me in terms of getting fully engaged in the story.

Vox is a gripping read, and it tries very hard to be topical and timely, a warning for our age and a call to action. Look, it seems to say — stand up now and be heard, or face a future where you may have no voice at all. Yes, being heard and taking a stand are worthy messages to put out there, but the lack of foundation in Vox makes the actual threat feel too shadowy and unbelievable.

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The details:

Title: Vox
Author: Christina Dalcher
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: August 21, 2018
Length: 326 pages
Genre: Dystopian fiction
Source: Library

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