Book review: Sleeping Beauties – Stephen King and son Owen’s intriguing premise doesn’t translate to anything special
Stephen King fans will find much to enjoy in this team-up with son Owen, but while the idea of men and women being separated into different worlds is intriguing, the book stumbles in its attempts to say something meaningful
by Stephen and Owen King
Of all the gifts a famous-author father can give his son, a co-written novel must be near the top. After all, slapping the name Stephen King on the cover pretty much guarantees a bestseller.
But King fans who crack open Sleeping Beauties may be disappointed. The book lacks the page-turning intensity found in so many of his classics such as It, which was recently turned into a blockbuster film.
Father and son started with an intriguing premise: what if men and women were separated into two different worlds? Would the men freak out? Would the women create a kinder, gentler society? They are existential questions that would seem to lend themselves to a 700-page book, but the novel’s answers to both do not seem nuanced enough.
The plot is relatively simple. One day all the women in the world get wrapped up in cocoons as soon as they fall asleep. If anyone tries to wake them up, they turn into feral beasts and do not hesitate to kill their loved ones. As some women who remain awake start to realise this, they do whatever they can not to slumber, from super-black coffee to cocaine.
Most of the men react in predictable ways: drinking, looting and arguing over whether to murder a mysterious woman called Evie who is the only female who can sleep and wake up.
The book opens with Evie literally emerging from a tree trunk in a cloud of moths. She is certainly the most intriguing character, but her existence is explained away as supernatural. She has been sent to Earth, we are told, but by whom? And why? The Kings let those questions linger and instead focus on the men who want to kill Evie versus the men who want to save her.
The action centres on a women’s prison in the Appalachia region of eastern USA. Each inmate has a story, and a reason to either wake up or stay in the female-centric alternative reality they find themselves in when they sleep.
There are a great many examples of why men are pigs and women would be better off without them, and then there is our male hero, prison psychiatrist Clint Norcross. Dr Norcross cannot seem to articulate why, but he thinks Evie needs to be protected, so he holes up with sympathisers in the prison and girds himself for battle with the men outside.
We will not spoil the rest. King fans who enjoy his blunt language and vivid gore will find lots to like. A bulldozer runs over a man and “shreds of skin flapped like streamers”; a woman cracks open a man’s jaw “like the sound of a drumstick being torn off a Thanksgiving turkey”. In the end, though, the novel feels like it wanted to say something really meaningful about gender relations and settles instead for, “Can’t we all just get along?”