Megan Giddings’ first novel, LAKEWOOD was one of New York Magazine’s
top ten books of 2020, an NPR Best Book of 2020, a Michigan Notable
book for 2021, a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards, and was a finalist
for an LA Times Book Prize in the Ray Bradbury Science Fiction, Fantasy,
and Speculative category. Her writing has been supported by the Barbara Deming Foundation for Feminist Fiction and Hedgebrook. Her new novel, THE WOMEN COULD FLY takes the “witch as suspicious other”trope and adds a unique mother daughter relationship to create a piercing commentary on misogyny,race, and discrimination. Megan is an assistant professor at Michigan State University and
affiliate faculty at Antioch University’slow-residency MFA. She lives in the midwest and is available for interview or to write feature. You can learn more about her at http://www.megangiddings.com
Reminiscent of the works of Margaret Atwood, Shirley Jackson, and Octavia Butler, a biting social commentary from the acclaimed author of Lakewood that speaks to our times—a piercing dystopian novel about the unbreakable bond between a young woman and her mysterious mother, set in a world in which witches are real and single women are closely monitored.
Josephine Thomas has heard every conceivable theory about her mother’s disappearance. That she was kidnapped. Murdered. That she took on a new identity to start a new family. That she was a witch. This is the most worrying charge because in a world where witches are real, peculiar behavior raises suspicions and a woman—especially a Black woman—can find herself on trial for witchcraft.
But fourteen years have passed since her mother’s disappearance, and now Jo is finally ready to let go of the past. Yet her future is in doubt. The State mandates that all women marry by the age of 30—or enroll in a registry that allows them to be monitored, effectively forfeiting their autonomy. At 28, Jo is ambivalent about marriage. With her ability to control her life on the line, she feels as if she has her never understood her mother more. When she’s offered the opportunity to honor one last request from her mother’s will, Jo leaves her regular life to feel connected to her one last time.
In this powerful and timely novel, Megan Giddings explores the limits women face—and the powers they have to transgress and transcend them.
Josephine Thomas has heard every single opinion people have on her mother’s disappearance. She ran away, her husband killed her, she was murdered, she was a witch… the most dangerous in a world where women can be charged with witchcraft, and being Black and a witch would lead to certain death. Fourteen years have passed since her disappearance, and now Jo and her father have decided to finally put it all behind them, finally admit that her mother is dead. But just as Jo seems to be sorting her life out, her father calls with a weird request, her mother has left her a significant amount of money but to claim it Jo has to travel to an Island in Lake Superior and complete some tasks. Jo knows what life has planned for her, at 28 she is expected to find a husband, marry, have kids, and Jo see’s this request, bizarre as it is, as her last chance to feel connected to her mother, her last chance at autonomy, so she jumps at it. But Jo is unprepared for what she finds on that Island, and the repercussions that it will have on her future.
Jo was a fantastic POV to read this story from. Black, Bi… and something else. She has always been against the registration of women, the strict laws in place to ensure women’s ‘safety’ that they refrain from falling into the Devils traps. She is reminded daily that she is different, she strays from the norm, what society considers to be acceptable, and yet she knows there is an inevitability to her fate, to marrying a man who will have ownership over her. That is until she visits the Island and learn things she never thought possible, about herself, about her family and about society as a whole. It’s a hard book to talk about without giving away spoilers and, although there is some inevitability to Jo’s ending, it was glorious being able to follow her along her journey.
To say this is a timely book is the understatement of the year. Giddings Dystopian world is scary in that it does not seem that large a jump from our own. A world where women are ruled by the whims of men, registered at the age of 28 and expected to marry a man by 30. A world where there are only considered two genders, where anything outside of the norm was dangerous, could lead to you being deemed a witch & where being a witch could lead to death. Parts of the story had me seething with anger, others had me smiling sadly, empathising with some of the things going on. Gidding’s world is one filled with injustice, but not only towards women, it contains racism, sexism, genderism, classism, and it shows the slippery slope the our own world is heading towards with it’s intolerance of anything different. Gidding’s uses stories told to Jo from her mother to show the history of the world, how it wasn’t always like this, how women and witches were belittled, ruined, destroyed by men until they had nowhere safe to go, until they were so controlled there was no escape.
I really enjoyed reading the relationship between Jo and her mother. It was complicated, filled with only the equal parts love and hate a child can feel for their parent. Her mother was both loving and distant, both tolerant and strict and Jo never quite had a steady vision of her in her head thanks to both society’s and her own impressions of her. She was known for being outspoken, headstrong, different, all things that were dangerous in a world where being different could mean death. But it wasn’t just Jo’s relationship with her mother what was complicated, nearly every relationship in her life was thanks in large part to the rules surrounding being a woman. She loved her best friend, but never acted on it because why ruin something when you could never be together anyway. She enjoyed having sex with Preston, but felt like loving him was conforming to society in a way she never wanted to. She loved her father, but resented his lack of care for her when she was a child.
This is the latest is a string of feminist fiction I’ve been reading recently and I’ve been loving it. Gidding’s creates a world too close to our own for comfort. It’s not a book of revenge, there is no happy ending where the patriarchy is destroyed and everyone lives happily after, but rather shows the dangers of conforming, of letting ourselves be chipped away at bit by bit until there is no fight left in us. It’s rough & dark in parts, but also a story that effortlessly drags you in, thanks in large part to Gidding’s writing style, and I found it nearly impossible to put down. An easy 4 stars, and I’m eager to see what Gidding’s has in store in next.
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