The Natural Way of Things

Charlotte Wood. Europa (PRH, dist.), $16 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-60945-362-6
The latest from Australian novelist Wood (Animal People) is allegory at its best, a phantasmagoric portrait of modern culture's sexual politics textured by psychological realism and sparing lyricism. The unsettling opening launches readers into a nightmare. A group of drugged women wake up in a remote, dilapidated compound whose wild grounds are surrounded by an electrified fence. They are sheared and leashed and marched and beaten. "You need to know what you are," one of the guards tells them. As glancing references to their former lives indicate, each of the "bald and frightened girls" was at the center of a public scandal involving powerful men: sports stars, politicians, television hosts, religious leaders. Their horrid, punishing captivity is also marked by an eerie normality. One of their captors checks his online dating profile; another does morning yoga. The women form tenuous bonds over their extended detention, but they have also internalized the culture's sexist attitudes—the "dull fear and hatred" of the female body—and thus their sisterhood is occasionally riven by suspicion and scorn. Distinguishing themselves from the group are two fierce, introspective protagonists, Yolanda and Verla, who scour the land for game and mushrooms and reject the path of "trailing, limping obedience." Despite its overt message, the novel seldom feels programmatic because of Wood's gorgeous, elliptical style. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/06/2016
Release date: 06/28/2016
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