Recently, I read The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, and its sequel, The Book of Etta, by Meg Ellison and was so impressed that I wanted to recommend these two outstanding books to those of you who love dystopian/postapocalyptic fiction, and strong female characters. Ms. Elison’s writing is convincing, conveys a strong sense of place and time, and portrays realistic characters, both good and bad, dealing with a changed world. These two books are the author’s first, but I hope not her last.
The following 2 editorial reviews were taken from Publishers Weekly:
Re The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere 1):
“Elison’s gripping and grim first novel, which won the Philip K. Dick award in its previous small press publication, tells the story of an unnamed woman who survives a plague that wipes out most of humankind in just weeks, leaving 10 male survivors for every woman. The story is beautifully written in a stripped down, understated way, though frequently gruesome in its depiction of rapes, murders, and still births. The protagonist, who sometimes calls herself Karen, or Dusty, or Jane, is beautifully realized as a middle-aged, bisexual woman with considerable skills, an indomitable will, and great adaptability, though she suffers considerably and is far from superwoman. A prologue and an epilogue set long after the events of the main narrative (and reminiscent of the concluding chapter of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid ’s Tale) hint at a positive future, leaving the reader with a glimmer of optimism in the midst of despair.”
Re The Book of Etta (The Road to Nowhere 2):
“In this gritty sequel to her Philip K. Dick Award-winning The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Elison returns to her postapocalyptic American Midwest milieu, but far in the future, when the midwife protagonist of the first novel is largely a legend. The plague that destroyed human civilization lingers, killing women in childbirth, fetuses in the womb, and newborns. Far more boys survive than girls. The various pocket communities that have survived have found their own ways of coping with the gender imbalance. In matriarchal Nowhere, women collect men into “hives.” In nearby Jeff City, castrati live as women, giving the illusion of gender balance. In Estiel, formerly St. Louis, a monstrous dictator known as the Lion raids other communities for their women and girls. Etta—or Eddy, as he calls himself outside the confines of Nowhere—is a young transgender man who can’t find a place for himself in a world where people with wombs are classified as either baby-making machines or midwives. He’s a wanderer and explorer by nature and has no interest in any other role. Elison continues to startle her readers with unexpected gender permutations and fascinating relationships worked out in front of a convincingly detailed landscape.”
Gender issues aside, these two books are engrossing reads. To me, the protagonists’ sexual orientations are only a small part of Elison’s two novels, and have little bearing on what makes them great stories. I highly recommend reading both, though each can stand alone. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a third Road to Nowhere.
You can keep up to date on Ms. Elison at her website at: www.megelison.com.
Click on the covers to view or buy on Amazon.