What happens when a rabies-like disease that targets only blonde women — natural and dyed — sweeps the Western world? That’s the crisis that surrounds The Blondes‘ heroine, Hazel: a redheaded grad student, pregnant with her married advisor’s child.
The first half of Emily Schultz‘s novel creeps at a dismal pace. When the titular blondes, infected with an unknown illness, begin to create violent uproars across North America and Europe, Hazel is in the thick of things. She’s adrift, however, and as a series of communications breakdowns draw her further and further into isolation, the reader begins to feel as if the epidemic isn’t getting the attention it deserves.
After all, The Blondes has drawn not-unjustified comparisons to Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale. In that novel, the dystopian landscape permeates and defines narrator Offred’s experience. Its focus on her fertility denies her the luxury of aloofness.
To a certain extent, The Blondes feels like a recasting of The Handmaid’s Tale, told with an outbreak instead of a coup. Like Offred, Hazel sleeps with a married man, and is imprisoned when she attempts to cross the border into Canada — accompanied, somewhat humorously, by a friend named Moira. Later, she comes to live with a gruff older woman — the wife of her child’s father — with whom she slowly forms a communal bond.
However, Hazel remains largely untouched by the epidemic that has overrun her world, even though several blonde-related attacks happen in her immediate vicinity. Until its heroine finds herself placed in quarantine, it feels as if Schultz’s novel could be told against any other backdrop. Readers looking for the all-encompassing threat of a dystopian environment may be disappointed when they find The Blondes‘ focus turns elsewhere.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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Image Credit: Luke Porter