- Series: The Road to Nowhere (Book 2)
- Paperback: 314 pages
- Publisher: 47North (February 21, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1503941825
- ISBN-13: 978-1503941823
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 171 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Book of Etta (The Road to Nowhere) Paperback – February 21, 2017
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From Publishers Weekly
In this gritty sequel to her Philip K. Dick Award–winning The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Elison returns to her postapocalyptic American Midwest milieu, but far in the future, when the midwife protagonist of the first novel is largely a legend. The plague that destroyed human civilization lingers, killing women in childbirth, fetuses in the womb, and newborns. Far more boys survive than girls. The various pocket communities that have survived have found their own ways of coping with the gender imbalance. In matriarchal Nowhere, women collect men into “hives.” In nearby Jeff City, castrati live as women, giving the illusion of gender balance. In Estiel, formerly St. Louis, a monstrous dictator known as the Lion raids other communities for their women and girls. Etta—or Eddy, as he calls himself outside the confines of Nowhere—is a young transgender man who can’t find a place for himself in a world where people with wombs are classified as either baby-making machines or midwives. He’s a wanderer and explorer by nature and has no interest in any other role. Elison continues to startle her readers with unexpected gender permutations and fascinating relationships worked out in front of a convincingly detailed landscape.
Elison’s second book picks up where The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (2014) left off. Pockets of the postapocalyptic world are beginning to restore order in their own isolated ways, creating new social norms, religious idols, and moral codes. Etta’s home city, Nowhere, reveres women and is organized by Hives of one woman to numerous men. Women fill key religious, leadership, and sexual roles in this city, but Etta would rather fill the masculine role of raider. Using her raiding as an excuse to present as male and travel, Etta and the new world must grapple with understanding nonbinary gender identity and transsexuality on the road. But the road is a treacherous place, as the patriarchal slave city Estiel and its leader, the Lion, threaten the safety of surrounding communities, burning and looting all who will not surrender their women and girls. Elison takes a nuanced look at the physical and psychological effects of sexual assault and forces its characters and readers alike to consider how it feels to be born with a culturally taboo identity.
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Picking up decades after the events of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, this book tells the story of Etta, a “living daughter” of the settlement Nowhere. In the tradition of The Unnamed Midwife, Etta’s story is a singular viewpoint from which we readers experience the changed world, enhanced with some sections from the narrator’s point of view. However, the changed world (and the nature of Etta’s life) are so different than that of the Unnamed and the world she occupied that the reader’s experience is materially different from book to book.
This transition in the tone of the books in the Road to Nowhere series is a brilliant technique by Elison, though it does have some down sides. On paper, I’m overawed by the way Elison has used voice and tone to crystallize the reader’s impression of both the main character and the world she occupies. I’m grateful that Elison made the distinction so stark, as it really showcases her storytelling ability and tonal range. I’m increasingly a fan of such non-standard series, and am thrilled by Elison’s choice for the Road to Nowhere collection.
However, I don’t mind admitting that I was more a fan of the tone of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife than I am of The Book of Etta.They’re both wonderful stories, with rich fully-realized characters, compelling narratives, and fascinating journeys through a remarkable world. Personally, I found that the sparse tone of the first book gripped me more than the more relaxed tone of the second book.
Tone aside, The Book of Etta is full of fascinating characters, and explores more deeply than its predecessor could the settlements that have arisen since the world changed. I continue to be awed by how clearly I find my suspicions of post-apocalyptic humanity reflected in the various settlements Elison creates.
Of course, the woman from the first book (now “the Unnamed”) is a character in this book – this time as a larger-than-life “founding mother” to the settlers of Nowhere. The way her personal nature, her stories, and (of course) her journaling tradition have grown between narratives to influence the culture of Nowhere and to create the myth of the Unnamed is fascinating and beautifully explored.
“The twining figure of a caduceus was carved into the floor. The people of Nowhere said that the Unnamed had had a tattoo of that strange image on her chest, but Etta didn’t believe it. It wasn’t in the book, and it seemed too dreamy for the woman who had practically built the settlement of Nowhere by herself, and written its history besides.”
Two of my favorite things Elison does in this book are 1) exploring the way the tradition of journal-keeping grows and becomes incorporated into the cultural traditions of Nowhere, and 2) exploring the ways different settlements (and their individual coping measures) have impacted each small culture’s definition of womanhood.
It is an absolute joy to encounter different folks’ feelings about the journaling obligation left to Nowhere by the Unnamed, and to read excerpts of specific settler’s journals throughout Etta’s narrative. This is really the heart of Elison’s work, to me; through these journals, she elegantly explores how different people find meaning, comfort, and stability in the remade world, as well as introducing glimpses of the world outside Etta’s experience, bridging the gap between the two narrative timelines, and providing thoughtful contrast to Etta’s point of view.
While the aspect above is my personal favorite part of this book, the likely point of the narrative lies within the different ways settlements have redefined womanhood due to each settlement’s survival strategy. Elison knocks it out of the park with this, which is a continuing theme throughout the narrative and manages to be both a sociological study and a driving plot point. Somehow, I felt neither talked down to nor preached to, while at the same time these explorations expanded my personal understanding of womanhood.
Through the course of the tale, we learn things about the world--dark things--and about how people have evolved to deal with the darkness. Etta (as Eddy) has become a murderer in order to steal female slaves and bring them back to Nowhere. Others have taken even more extreme steps, such as harvesting female steroids from horses, running vast empires of fear, building societies where women never speak, etc. I don't want to give too much away, as there are some real twists in this second book, but the Mormons return, sort of.
There are some neat ideas and neat expansions on the themes established in the first book. This is one of the only books I can think of, in which the author deals with small facts like rubber tires, ammunition (even if she missed the target in part of it), etc.
Again, I'd say read this one. It's likely you will enjoy it.
Most recent customer reviews
So much pain, but Etta never stops.
I cannot say enough about Meg Elison author.Read more