The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird, a mini book review of a pandemic novel. Next up in our irregular series: “What’s Rachel Reading?”
I’ve been trying to reclaim a bit of time in my life lately for the important things — including, getting back to reading more! So, I thought it would also be fun to get back to What’s Rachel Reading, and tell you today about The End of Men, a debut novel by Christina Sweeney-Baird.
By the way, my paper copy here includes book discussion questions and a conversation with the author at the end. If your book group is looking for new material, this one would make an interesting choice.
The End of Men, a mini review
Yes, The End of Men is a global pandemic novel — which might hit a little close to home these days for some of us. In the author’s note at the end of the book, she says that she finished writing the novel in summer 2019… but then was finishing up edits in the very different world of spring 2020. How surreal must that have been?!
It’s fascinating, therefore, to look at The End of Men in this light and think about what the author got right when predicting government and individual reactions to a global pandemic. The twist here: The virus just infects males; women can only be carriers.
Written from multiple points of view, The End of Men tells the story of this fictional pandemic through the individual stories of a number of women living through it. These include the doctor who treated Patient Zero, everyday women who lost sons, husbands, and fathers, and some of those thrown into roles they never could have envisioned — as the pandemic claims the lives of those who otherwise would have occupied those positions.
While this was an interesting way to build the narrative, I found it made for a somewhat disjointed book. Just when I became invested in one character’s story, we’d be torn away to another character’s first person narrative and point of view — and just as I got used to the switching around, the next chapter would suddenly again pick up on an earlier character’s story. This approach made it hard to feel a true connection to any single character.
That quibble aside, The End of Men was a fast-paced, fascinating book — touching on everything from gender dynamics, to politics, to science and medicine, to human reactions to crisis. I also appreciated that the story carried through to several years post-pandemic, showing how the world evolved and adapted to the changes brought about by the virus. Present-day circumstances have also made it an all-too-believable read.
I was surprised this was a debut novel, and am looking forward to seeing how the author’s writing evolves.
What are you reading this week?
Other than The End of Men, I recently finished:
- That Summer, a new-ish Jennifer Weiner novel. If you’re looking for something a bit deeper than your normal beach read, but still firmly in the “chick lit” camp, That Summer delivers. Its topics range from the #metoo movement to the power of female friendship. (tw: sexual assault)
- The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison (sequel to The Goblin Emperor). High fantasy meets murder mystery in this beautifully written novel, complete with masterful lovely world building and a compelling protagonist. Highly recommended.
- Sin Eater, by Megan Campisi. This one, I read for my book club. Although I enjoyed it more than some of the other members, this left me with a similar reaction as to The End of Men. The premise was fascinating, the writing was good, but the book left me wanting a more in-depth exploration of some of the topics and side plots it alluded to.
What have you been reading lately? Tell us about it in comments — And, you can browse all of the What’s Rachel Reading? book reviews here.