It’s my spot on the Random Things blog tour for The Women Could Fly – it’s a short but slippery novel and I found myself wavering back and forth between different ratings over each and every page I read.
Title: The Women Could Fly
Author: Megan Giddings
Publisher: Pan Mamillan
Publication Date: 18th August 2022
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher and Random Things Tours
Rating: 4 stars
Josephine Thomas has heard every conceivable theory about her mother’s disappearance. That she was kidnapped. Murdered. That she took on a new identity to start a new family. That she was a witch. This is the most worrying charge because in a world where witches are real, peculiar behavior raises suspicions and a woman–especially a Black woman–can find herself on trial for witchcraft.
But fourteen years have passed since her mother’s disappearance, and now Jo is finally ready to let go of the past. Yet her future is in doubt. The State mandates that all women marry by the age of 30–or enroll in a registry that allows them to be monitored, effectively forfeiting their autonomy. At 28, Jo is ambivalent about marriage. With her ability to control her life on the line, she feels as if she has her never understood her mother more. When she’s offered the opportunity to honor one last request from her mother’s will, Jo leaves her regular life to feel connected to her one last time.
In this powerful and timely novel, Megan Giddings explores the limits women face–and the powers they have to transgress and transcend them.
There’s something slippery and difficult about this relatively short novel. I found myself wavering between loving the depth of feeling, power and magic that is expressed through community and self-worth, and also feeling puzzlement and frustration at the setting and environment that the women in this novel are living.
The beginning of the story is just as fractured as Josephine is – coming to terms with her mother’s disappearance – death? – 14 years ago as she fears the intervention of the state in the rest of her life marriage to a man becomes a mandate, but she can’t picture her future with anyone. And certainly not a life where she loves out of coercion. As she sets out on one final journey as outlined in her mother’s will, her story becomes somewhat dreamlike, somewhat trippy, but somehow smoother and making more sense, as she gains a sense of self-identity and comes to terms with what Josephine wants on her own terms.
The standards set of women in this novel – to be mild, obedient housewives and caregivers, as the protection of men is the only thing that will prevent them turning to evil and becoming witches – is a little jarring when compared with the freedoms that are apparently allowed until the age of 28. We see women in settings that are virtually identical to what we expect – in education, at parties, drinking, doing drugs, travelling freely – and just where existing is a high risk at times, and asking for catcalling and accusations at others.
I understand what’s going on here, but it feels too ‘now’ to be able to fully engage in these issues when there are questions of witchcraft and magic around this story.
There are also an awful lot of experiences meshed together in this novel – and I couldn’t quite tell whether they were dealt with fully, or just enough. These are all experiences that are constantly and rightly intertwined – being Black, being queer, not being rich in a society that favours capitalism. Again, I think part of that is the realistic-fantasy setting of seemingly modern-day America, but against this backdrop of witches and witch-specific oppression, which means that I couldn’t quite tell whether I was reading a book about women’s rights in general, Black women’s rights specifically, or a critique of how modern-day laws and oppression are no better than witch trials, and that it’s only through community and distancing ourselves from such a society that we can experience a truer kind of freedom. Or even all of these things.
But it was what made this tough to read, was what made it good. This feels like the kind of book a literary discussion group could really get its teeth into, and I imagine will divide quite a few opinions too. I don’t think I enjoyed reading it all the time, but it has given an awful lots of snippets of ideas to consider further.
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher, through a Random Things Tour, in exchange for an honest review.