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A Psychologist’s Take on Stephen King’s Sleeping Beauties

“The mothers. The wives. The daughters. Who do you think cleans up the battlefields after the shooting stops?”

I finally finished Stephen King’s, Sleeping Beauties. I say finally because it was no easy feat. Clocking in at just under 700 pages, this novel is a doozy to work through, but it’s in part because of the rich content of the subject matter. For those who are unfamiliar, the concept of Sleeping Beauties is actually fantastic and creates a platform to explore the differences between the nature of men versus women.

Psychologically, it’s brilliant—but the novel at times felt excruciatingly long. I’m not sure writing collaborations between Stephen King and his son, who co-authored the book, are the way to go in the future.

The Premise

Imagine every woman on earth falls asleep and is wrapped in a web-like cocoon. Naturally, you try to wake them up. Now imagine that upon waking up your daughter, wife, or friend, they open their eyes and stop at nothing to murder you—with their teeth, fingernails, or anything handy. After your gruesome death is finished, the female returns to her cocoon to continue a seemingly endless sleep.

What the men of the world do not know is that the women are not merely asleep—they are living in another world. This new world appears to be the same as the world of men but set in a post-apocalyptic future environment. The kicker? No men exist in their world.

King’s twist on this story is to allow one woman, named Eve Black, to live. Her entrance into the world of Sleeping Beauties is as mysterious as the supernatural powers she possesses. On the same day all other women fall into their transportive slumber, Eve emerges from the town forest.

Through Sleeping Beauties, King tackles the question, “What would happen to men if the world lost all the women in the world?”

King’s Assumptions

In very broad strokes, Stephen King’s Sleeping Beauties portrays some fairly severe stereotypes of men and women. King’s overarching theme seems to suggest a world without women would result in chaos and destruction. Without the balance of the two genders, the worst qualities of men’s personalities are magnified.

The stereotypes of women in this book are similarly exaggerated. Without exposure to men, women organize a cooperative society, relatively free of aggression. This literal no man's land is a peaceful world with balance and cooperation simply because women are left to their own devices.

At one point in the book, King references a period of history in which children poured cold water on machine parts in factories to contribute to these gender stereotypes.

He writes, “their task was to pour water over the belts and pistons, to keep them cool. Hence the name coolies. I would submit that women have historically served the same function, restraining men—at least when possible-from their very worst, most abhorrent acts.”

On the other hand, King does offer characters that are not as demonstrative of the stereotypes presented. At points, both women and men serve heroic roles. But the overall assumption that men are the worst of the two sexes permeates this book.

The Contrast of a Male vs. Female Culture

Sleeping Beauties brings up a good point about culture. A culture of a society can happen in two ways—naturally or deliberately.

We find cultures within families, friend groups, schools, and work environments. At the risk of furthering stereotypes, let’s take a look at the male-dominated culture of the multinational investment bank, Goldman Sachs.

In the book, Why I Left Goldman Sachs, Greg Smith describes an environment steeped in exaggerated maleness, where power and money superseded relationships with clientele. Clients were often taken advantage of in order to increase profits.

One quote by someone at Goldman Sachs was that he would rather lose his reputation than lose money because he could always get his reputation back. In his book, Smith also references the “partner laugh,” describing it as more of a deep guffaw rather than an authentic laugh. Even in my own experience, male-dominated cultures have tended toward more of a power hierarchy.

In contrast and to continue the stereotype, female-dominated cultures (such as school systems or the field of psychology) tend to be more feeling oriented and methodical in their pace. The aggression appears to be more subtle and relational. Territorial expansion and open aggression are seen less often in female-dominated cultures. To get territory you have to fight.

Stephen King makes his point when a woman comments on the riots happening as the women fall asleep. “It was funny, when you thought about it; what were all those men rioting about? What did they think they could accomplish? Maura wondered if there would have been riots if it had been the other half of the human race who were falling asleep. She thought it unlikely.”

Males tend toward aggression while women appear to be more peaceful. We can also see this in the culture of video games. Males tend to play games that involve gaining territory and lean toward first-person shooters. While girls tend to enjoy games which have a theme of collecting or are cooperative in nature. Socialization is emphasized in female-dominated games.

Boys grow up to be men. And it’s men who cause all the trouble. They’re the ones who shed the blood and poison the earth.”

In Sleeping Beauties, Eve Black, the supernatural woman, summarizes male and female nature. She references the sleeping women stating, “The women you want to save are at this very moment living their lives in another place. Happy lives, by and large, although of course, most miss their little boys and some miss their husbands and fathers. I won’t say they never behave badly, they are far from Saints, but for the most part, they’re in harmony. In that one ever pulls your daughters favorite shirt, shouts in her face, embarrasses her, or terrifies her by putting his fist through the wall.”

Despite the exaggerations, King seems to settle on the fact that sometimes the stereotype is really a reflection of reality. However, the exaggerated nature found in King’s book feels just that—a little too much.

Conclusion: C+

In general, I was pretty bummed about the book, and I think it could’ve been much more exciting if it were a more seamless blend between King and his son’s writing styles.

His most recent book, The Outsider, feels much more like King’s true voice. In Sleeping Beauties, many of the characters did not need to be included. I can only imagine the universe that exists in King’s mind, and it’s probably very difficult to exclude all of his rich characters.

Due to so many characters, toward the middle of the book, I basically paid attention to the people I could remember and skipped the rest.I have read the majority of King’s works. You can almost sense the trials of his own personal life manifesting in his work. I think this is another chapter of his life in co-authoring a book with his son. And while this is a very likely to be rewarding experience, the end result is not a smooth read.

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