Sleeping Beauties is another collaboration, this time with Stephen King and Owen King. I’ve never read any other Owen King before, so I don’t know if this is representative of his work or not.
Here’s the thing about Sleeping Beauties. I read through it the first time, thought it was ok, then went online and found people talking about it, and the first thing I saw was someone asking, “where are all the trans people?”
And, well, it kind of broke the story for me. Because of course, there should be trans people. The sleeping phenomenon is worldwide, and while the story focuses on one small town, we get news from all over. And even in that one small town, there seem to be enough people that there probably should be trans people. And the thing is, something like this would be outing people. A man would fall asleep, and it would be a bunch of people’s first indication that he was assigned female at birth. Or a woman who wasn’t sleeping would be revealed to be assigned male at birth… and I know the Kings thought of that because they briefly touched on the idea as an explanation for why Evie could sleep and wake!
Or it could work the other way. Say the magic that put the women to sleep recognizes gender identity over assigned gender at birth. OK, so people who look like men because they aren’t out yet (possibly not even to themselves in some cases) would fall asleep. People who looked like women because they aren’t out yet would stay awake. I mean, in a world where people don’t just fall into an enchanted sleep for long stretches of time, trans people are routinely killed just for being trans. And in this story, defenseless women are killed just because (which is also something that happens in reality). Something like this that would forcibly out them and render some of them unable to defend themselves would definitely result in murders. It would be news. That’s not even taking into account what might happen to nonbinary or any other non-man, non-woman gender under these rules.
I admit I didn’t think of this myself, but once it was pointed out to me, I couldn’t unsee it. And honestly, it screws the story up. I don’t expect them to go into a whole thing on gender identity politics (although since this whole story is gender politics, I don’t see why they couldn’t), but they could have thrown in a line or two about the people who were being surprise-outed, and what was happening to them (which wouldn’t be all that much different than what was happening to all the cis women. They’d be attacked and often killed, especially the sleeping ones). No one is expecting Stephen King, or probably Owen King either, to get that far into it. But the absence of trans people is more unbelievable than the premise of the story. It’s a problem.
If I squint a lot at that missing information and treat it like a fairy tale that’s just too generally broad and simplistic for any additional nuances (which, to be fair, may have been the authors’ intention), the book is… OK. I’m not a big fan of this type of story — the battle of the sexes kind where they have to learn what it’s like to live without each other. Because even if we ignore that gender is more complex than that, it’s just… I don’t know. I’m a woman in the world, and I’m very aware that these are real issues between the genders. I get wanting to pontificate about it. But I feel like if the best you can come up with is permanently separate the genders and/or wipe out one gender, you’ve lost the plot and need to think about something else for a while. If I must read one of these, I guess I’d prefer it to be Stephen King? His characters hold me even when the plots don’t. But honestly, I’m not sure two straight men are the best people to write this story at all.
And their solution is just… we come back and deal with it? I mean, I guess it’s realistic. I have two sons, no question I’d always come back to them. If I didn’t, though… I think the story tries to imply the guys will be somewhat better going forward, but let’s be real; that won’t last. I’m pretty sure the story calls that out specifically, too. I mean, don’t ask me what I wanted; there’s no real other way for the story to end, but… sheesh.
This one kind of depresses me, and I’m not thrilled with it. But as is typical of King books, the characters are interesting and compelling, and you want to find out what happens to them. Not Evie, so much, she comes off like an avatar for generic goddess/nature/mystery spirit/whatever. But the actual people, they kept me with the story. I wouldn’t put this one high on my list of things to re-read, though.