Spoiler alert! This post contains a detailed discussion of the characters and plot of Sleeping Beauties.
Full disclosure: Stephen King is the one of the few horror writers whom I will eagerly read. I do not love to be scared on a regular basis. However, I make an exception for this author, who can bring to light something mundane and turn it into your worst fear. In this case, he has managed to turn sleep into a terrifying concept.
King and his son Owen teamed up for this ambitious book and the writing of father and son is seamless. It is a wonderfully fun horror book about what would happen if, due to a virulent and quickly spreading virus named Aurora, the world’s female population fell asleep, leaving men to fend for themselves. Hence the aptly given title, Sleeping Beauties.
The majority of the book takes place in a women’s prison nestled in the foothills of Appalachia, where the reader becomes acquainted with the inmates and their personal histories, crimes, struggles and fears. Think Orange is the New Black mixed with some supernatural and fantastic elements. One by one we come to know the flawed residents of the small, rural town of Dooling, West Virginia, where the locals feel safe. This worldwide disaster playing out on national TV would not touch their way of life, or so they believed. They were wrong. This malady is airborne and not a single woman in the world is to be spared, no matter her age, race, or religion, unless of course, said woman can stay awake. And that is where things take an interesting turn.
Enter Evie, a mysterious woman who arrives on the scene with a bang. Literally. She commits a violent murder of two abusive meth dealers in a trailer park and is later found wandering in the middle of the road. She is arrested and incarcerated in the local women’s prison for the remainder of the book. It is here the reader learns that she not only is immune from the virus affecting the world’s women, but has superhuman powers. She comes to our world through a tree and commands the armies of moths that spread the virus; she levitates, reads minds and most importantly, she sleeps and wakes normally.
As the virus takes hold and the world’s female population begin to fall one by one at a heart pounding rate, the residents of Dooling begin to feel the effects of Aurora at last. People become desperate to stay awake and turn to stimulants (anything from Red bull to Cocaine) to keep them from falling prey to this plague. They ransack the pharmacies, hunt down their local drug dealers, and in increasing desperation, turn to violence and any news source to find a cure. Emotion trumps facts and “In a terrified world, false news was king.” (p. 347)
Father and son have turned the Brothers Grimm on its head. These sleeping beauties sprout tendrils around their heads, become cocooned in an unknown substance and, when awakened from their slumbers, turn murderous. They are transported to another dimension. It is a world where women can choose to start over and make the world in their own image. The world is forced to consider the possibility of a world without them, and the results do not look promising. Consider this a more violent and timely Sleeping Beauty, focusing on themes of rural poverty, drug addiction, with some gratuitous violence and gender stereotypes thrown in for good measure.
My only criticisms are that there are too many characters that are not well developed or fleshed out (the cast contains over 70 by my count). It is overly long, with exposition, pace and set-up that drags out for approximately 300 pages. It’s only during the last half or so that the plot begins to move forward and we finally feel as if we’re going somewhere. This book is sure to be a bestseller, but one only the most devoted King fans will undertake.
Verdict: For an enjoyable and straightforwardly written horror book with tinges of our current cultural and political climate, this is a nice, if unsettling way to get your horror fix just in time for the cozy Fall weather.
Now you need to find out how it ends.Borrow a copy of Sleeping Beauties!
Whitney Z. is a native Pittsburgher. She is currently a substitute Library Assistant who loves audiobooks, music and movies. She believes firmly that NASA made a mistake in demoting Pluto and would sincerely like for said decision to be reversed.