Blondes: A Novel" by Emily Schultz; Thomas Dunne
Books (400 pages, $25.99)
the 1970s and ’80s, genre books and literary fiction
were sharply divided, kept in separate sections of
bookstores and libraries. Those divisions have faded
into the past, however, thanks to readers who enjoy both
and authors who write right through them.
Emily Schultz. In her novel "The Blondes," a
rabies-like virus sends those it infects into a violent
rage. Whom does it infect? Blond women. Bleached blond,
natural blond, highlights, it doesn’t matter. And only
women — no men — are at risk.
that sci-fi thriller plot drops our heroine — or
perhaps it’s better to see her simply as narrator,
because Hazel Hayes is more inclined to head to the
library than do pushups and learn archery. She’s a
Canadian working on her PhD in aesthetics in New York,
reading about things like "an examination of the
metonymic progression in beauty product
ingredients" and "a meaning-based explanation
for complexions used in advertising."
happens to be in the subway when one of the first
attacks hit, and she’s swept along with the general
chaos of unknowing that follows a disaster. What seems
like an isolated incident soon unfolds as a worldwide
epidemic. Infected women turn into beasts that assault,
maim, spread contagion, destroy themselves, even kill.
one has quite enough information, and competing theories
emerge about what is happening. With fear taking hold,
regulations — quite possibly over-harsh and irrational
— are imposed.
just blonds but any woman with a light complexion is
suspect. Hazel is a redhead who dyes her hair chestnut.
Stores can’t stock enough dark dye, and natural blonds
shave their heads, even eyebrows, with the hope that
being hairless will keep them safe.
all this, Hazel has an even bigger problem: She’s
pregnant. The father is her thesis advisor back in
Canada, and he’s married. Their affair was passionate,
but she wasn’t planning on having his baby. Yet her
efforts to get an abortion are thwarted by the
escalating crisis around her. Finally she decides she
must return to Canada for the health services there.
what started out as a pseudo zombie-tale is now also a
road story, and a feminist bildungsroman, and a parable
about prejudice and reproductive freedom and
is an interesting figure to take us through this
hazardous landscape. Pudgy and clumsy, she inhabits her
world with a determined physicality, frequently throwing
up and getting scraped and bleeding through stitches.
She’s also intellectually ambitious, a
first-generation academic from a single, working-class
mom who drinks too much and has a string of mostly lousy
know from the story’s outset that Hazel makes it to
Canada and finds relative safety for herself and the
child she will bear with, of all people, her lover’s
wife. How that happens, and the strangeness of it, are
sad and human and the heart of the book.
of Schultz’s choices — Hazel holes up in a run-down
hotel called the "Dunn Inn" (sounds like
"done in," get it?) — fall a little short.
Sometimes slapdash writing shows through. This is
Schultz’s first book with a major American publisher,
whose attention she caught through a lucky coincidence.
She’d published a novel with a small Canadian press in
2005 called "Joyland"; in 2013, Stephen King
published a novella with the same title. Some confused
King fans picked up Schultz’s book, and while the
mix-up resulted in some nasty Amazon reviews, Schultz
chronicled the upside with a popular blog about the
unexpected windfall, Spending Stephen King’s Money.
sense of humor underlies the basic conceit of "The
Blondes," in which blond women, so long objects of
the male gaze, suddenly become fearsomely threatening.
Whatever the book’s faults, it earns its keep with a
posse of beautiful, impeccably clad stewardesses
wreaking havoc on the concourse at JFK.