Emily Schultz, founder of Joyland Magazine, has written about an epidemic in The Blondes. This is the story of a virus, yes, and about its outbreak. But like Megan Abbott, Schultz’s horror bubbles up from society’s standards for women and their appearances. This is an epidemic that seems to step down off billboards and rock the collective consciousness, as much of the world demands its women trustworthy, both well-coiffed and well-behaved.
We learn of the virus through the memories of Hazel, narrating to her unborn child. Both the child’s existence and the virus’s bloom up around Hazel’s innocent graduate student life, a Canadian visiting New York indefinitely, hoping to clear her head of romantic entanglements. The story alternates between then, Hazel’s life in New York as the virus hits, and now, as Hazel holes up in a cabin alone, pregnant, wondering if the woman she was living with will return or if she’ll be forced to give birth alone.
Hazel explains in the book’s opening, to her unborn daughter:
We are not like men; men shake hands with hate between them all the time and have public arguments that are an obvious jostling for power and position. They compete for dominance— if not over money, then over mating. They know this, each and every one. But women are civilized animals. We have something to prove, too, but we’ll swirl our anger with straws in the bottom of our drinks and suck it up, leaving behind a lipstick stain.
The virus, nicknamed “Blonde Fury,” removes the veil of civilized nature that Hazel refers to here. Although the science behind the virus isn’t explained, and is referred to vaguely, it targets blondes. It targets the image of blondes we are all familiar with–women towering tall in high heels and perfect lipstick. It leaves them snarling and disheveled, animal-like, unable to be subdued by uniformed men. It hits a group of flight attendants, as they storm down the hall of an airline. It turns what we’ve been taught to identify as beautiful into something animal, furious and deadly.
Men are told what to watch out for on the news. Women who have anxiety are quarantined, suspected of having the virus. Suddenly, the female is feared. The story of the outbreak itself, like all virus tales, is strange and surreal, and Hazel’s own lack of direction leaves her adrift in the effects of the virus both in Canada and the U.S., an observer in both her own life and the world. At times hilarious, at times lonely, The Blondes always relays a striking picture of a world quick to adapt to “Gold Fever.”
You can watch the sort of strange, perhaps not representative of the book at all, trailer here: