Empowerment–and Terror

I had originally been thinking of Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan for a Halloween review.  She’s that kind of author.  But I decided it’s not really that kind of book.  In some ways it is horror, but not the Halloweenish type.  Maybe it’s too real.

The Daughters of Eve are an exclusive high school club.  The members claim each other as sisters, and are deeply loyal to one another.  This year, they have a new teacher as moderator, Irene Stark.  Irene encourages the girls to think for themselves and seize their rights–but what starts out as healthy women’s empowerment quickly becomes a terrifying brand of violent man-hating.

The character depiction is amazing.  There are ten Daughters of Eve, plus Irene.  Most of the girls have family members who appear at some point.  It’s an enormous ensemble cast, and yet I feel like the vast majority of the characters are vividly, clearly drawn–and this isn’t a long book.  The point of view (limited third person) shifts among many of the characters, which I think helps give each moments of depth and insight.

The subject of women’s empowerment is brilliantly handled.  The book was originally published in the seventies, but the gender attitudes of the town feel more like the fifties–all women become housewives, daughters help around the house while sons don’t, girls don’t need to go to college…  Duncan’s depiction of Irene is masterful, as her advice goes from positive and even inspiring, all the way to completely insane.  She’s believable–her conclusions are mad, of course, but she makes compelling, reasonable-sounding arguments, and I believe that the girls would get confused and end up following her.  Irene also has depth–she’s terrifying, but we see what in her past led her here, and in her own twisted way, she really does want to help the girls.

The male characters are realistic too.  There’s Cain, and there’s Abel.  Some are really good guys, even sweet.  One is abusive.  A lot are clearly products of being raised with gender stereotypes, but even those range from horrible to well-meaning.  Duncan demonstrates, and without feeling heavy-handed about it, exactly what Irene can’t see–that people are individuals, and can’t be judged by their gender alone, women or men.

Duncan often deals with the supernatural, or with psychic phenomena.  That’s only a small element here–one girl has special feelings and premonitions.  It enables some foreshadowing and adds tension, but it’s not a huge part of the story.

Daughters of Eve is an excellent book.  Besides for all the reasons above, it also has the simplest and yet most chilling final line I’ve ever read.  I can’t tell it to you–it’s a spoiler–but trust me, it’s brilliant!

Author’s Site: http://loisduncan.arquettes.com/

One thought on “Empowerment–and Terror

  1. This book sounds like it has a lot of depth. In the 70s, when it was written, gender roles were only starting to evolve and change. A lot has happened in our society since then. But back in that time, I could see a reader identifying with the way gender roles are portrayed. It was a transitional time in our culture.

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