In the wake of the last month and a half of sexual assault and sexual harassment stories surfacing (and what a tsunami of a wake it’s been) Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and his son Owen King dovetails with these current scandals almost too well. The book itself is not a study in men vs. women but an unveiling of humanity’s war on each other. Does that make sense? Good. It did in my head anyway.
In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia (yeah, I was a little shocked that it wasn’t set in some quaint little Maine town where sewer clowns and rabid dogs reign supreme) an eerie, almost ageless beautiful woman (you ever notice it’s never some plain woman rolling into town to upend everyone’s lives?) arrives in town. Her name is Eve Black and she’s about to turn tiny Dooling inside out.
A strange plague has swept across the world. Women are falling asleep (sometimes in the middle of walking, driving, or eating dinner) and a peculiar gauzy cobweb of a cocoon spirals out from their skin to wrap them head to toe. These women aren’t dead but deeply asleep. Females in all corners of the world are succumbing. And the women of the Dooling Correctional Facility for Women begin to fall asleep one by one.
Sheriff Lila Norcross is running on fumes the first day that women begin to fall to the sleep disease. She’s been called out to a trailer meth lab where one of the dealer’s heads has been rammed through the side of the trailer, sticking out like some deer head mounted to a wall. A nude woman at the scene named Eve Black, a serenely beautiful (but non psychopath looking naked lady to be sure) takes credit for the deaths of two drug dealers and is handcuffed and peacefully gets into the back of Sheriff Norcross’s squad car. The woman unnerves Lila in a way that she doesn’t understand.
Dr. Clint Norcross, Lila’s husband, is the senior psychiatric officer at the Dooling women’s prison. Once Eve Black is settled into the prison (the labyrinth of the justice system is kinda skipped since everyone’s panicking about women falling asleep and men being left on their own to freak the floob out), Clint studies the strange woman. Now, reader, you know and I know that this Eve Black is a supernatural creature with designs of her own. But it takes the people of Dooling a little longer to catch on that she’s a part of the chaos that the sleep brings. Eve Black is able to fall asleep and wake up again without the cocoon growing from her face to wrap her body.
Frank Geary, the local animal control officer, has a volatile temper that frightens his estranged wife and his 11-year-old daughter. He’s not violent towards them but his anger is still terrifying. When the poop hits the fan and his wife and daughter fall asleep, Frank decides to take charge. By then almost all the women in town are asleep except for a handful who have access to meth and speed to keep themselves awake for a few hours longer. One of these women is Vanessa Lampley, Officer of Corrections at the women’s prison and the 2010 and 2011 Ohio Valley arm-wrestling champion. When she’s first introduced you don’t think she’s going to be a fairly major character but then the Kings surprise the heck out of you by giving her more air time, so to speak.
In the meantime, the women who fell asleep “wake up” in a Dooling that is deserted. There are no men, just the women who fell asleep. They begin to build a small but thriving society. None of the women know how it’s possible that they could fall asleep and wake up in a new Dooling to start their lives over again but they’re happier than they have been in a long while. Time passes much more quickly in this new place. But as New Dooling is getting settled some women start to disappear.
Back in old Dooling there are reports of men trying to wake loved ones in their cocoons. One news broadcast shows a man ripping away at the cocoon around his wife’s face only to have her rise up like a zombie berserker and tear into him. Men who had once been terrified of their female family members falling into a deep slumber (and many men who are blights upon society and don’t much care for women or will never admit they’re afraid of women) begin torch brigades. Yes, that’s exactly as it sounds: all over the world men are burning women in their cocoons. And Dooling is no different. People begin hiding the wrapped bodies of their loved ones in attics and basements to keep them safe.
The town of Dooling is falling into two different factions. One consists of Clint Norcross and a small band of men who want to protect the prison’s sleeping women and Eve Black because she is undoubtedly the catalyst for the slumbering women. The other group is made up of Frank Geary and a rag-tag bunch of idiots who shouldn’t be allowed scissors let alone guns. They make their way to the prison when they hear there’s a woman there by the name of Eve Black who may be the key to the disease. They’re not going there to have a friendly chat with her or sell her some Time Life books either.
Sleeping Beauties is not an anti-male or anti-female novel. In fact, it embraces humanity in all of its ugly and wonderful ways. Some of the characters, like Frank Geary, aren’t pure evil. Frank’s a father who will do anything to keep his little girl safe. Clint Norcross had a rough upbringing in foster homes where the adults would make the children fight for a milkshake. He’s not completely without shady machinations in this book but that’s exactly why it’s a fantastic read. There is no clear-cut good and evil. There is only human and slightly less human.
If you want to read a book that defies all your ideas about good and evil and makes you think about what you would do in a given situation, take a peek inside Sleeping Beauties. You may find yourself on both sides of the equation.
Except for those meth heads. Nobody’s on their side.