Notable American Women

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Notable American Women turns Margaret Atwood and normal categories of written expression on end in an elaborately deconstructed tale. Crazy technology and crazier women invade the bucolic life of an unremarkable family and contort it into a surreal outpost where the rules all change. Ben Marcus fabricates--in more ways than one--a world of strange activity and odd philosophy. He is the narrator of the novel as well as the unwilling and ineffective breeder for this cult who transform his home, first by draping it in fabric bunting to stifle noise and finally by destroying all that maintains normalcy. It is, however, fantasy. “If” Ben were to have existed, the author tells readers, this boy would have lived on an Ohio farm, invaded by women tasked to accomplish a “new behavior,” where silence rules. Is his contrived reality merely an event turned inside out as a kind of paper mirror to reflect emotions and events in a new way? Is it perhaps a fairytale of childhood angst, confirming the insights of Bruno Bettelheim, where disillusioned wife and mother becomes ugly stepmother, accomplice to evil deeds, and father is marginalized?

The novel’s style is quirky. The reader must suspend the logic normally found in written expression and be willing to blur categories of subjective and objective, or be totally frustrated. Some readers may enjoy the warped humor nuggeted in descriptions of procedures and mechanical devices, midrashes on feminine names, or the history of the fictional women’s movement. The book embodies a whimsy not encountered elsewhere.