Content warning: sexual violence, stillbirth
A worldwide plague kills nearly everyone on the planet. A midwife wakes in a San Francisco hotel. (It’s practically “28 Days Later.”) She stocks up on antibiotics—and, critically, birth control—and walks into an extra-hellish hellscape. Since females experienced the highest mortality rate, the rare woman or girl that survives is a treasure. Commodity. Object.
The midwife trains herself to be self-sufficient. She carries a gun. However, the key to her survival is her avoidance of other people—that is, men. Men are potential slavers, serial rapists, and impregnators. The latter can be fatal due to childbirth: bleeding out, infection, or latent plague. (Babies grow to term but are always born dead.) In this scenario, the best the midwife can do is disguise herself as a man and live alone. She holds onto shots of Depo-Provera, just in case she runs into a woman in need of mercy.
I considered whether this novel is a parable, an updated Handmaid’s Tale with higher stakes and heightened cruelty. Instead, it strikes me as a pessimistic meditation on the fragility of women’s freedoms, reproductive and otherwise. It’s easy for me as a white suburban woman to cheer signs of progress, such as women running for President. It’s harder for me to accept that many women remain subjugated like it’s 1899—and certain men think that’s great. Right-wing politicians: all-male governance. Christian extremists: forced birth. Misogynists: harass and grab. Sexists: won’t promote or hire us in the first place. Incels: bloody hell.
Please excuse me: I’m off to donate to Planned Parenthood. Right now.