“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – John Dalberg-Acton
This, among others, is a theme of the book The Power by Naomi Aldrich. But there is so much more to it than that. What begins as a story about gender inequality, really becomes a complicated thought experiment on power, gender, politics, religion and war. The concept is simple enough: women suddenly have the power to control electricity. Meaning they can produce electro-static energy from their bodies, like an electric eel. What results from that ability, however is anything but simple. It is an interesting and immediate shift in the dynamics of, well, everything.
The book follows 4 main characters: 3 women and 1 man. Each of the women bring their own personalities and history to the power. A politician, a victim and a predator, if I had to categorize them. But with the power, they become something different. The book does little to explain their transformations or even to acknowledge them forthright. Instead, it fast-forwards through their journey mostly, pausing to serve the reader single moments that feel meant to further the exploration of consequences more than to further character development. In this way, the book is disjointed. When the characters do come together it feels forced, even unnecessary.
I think, however, for all that it lacks in cohesive story line, it makes up for in raw intellectual deliberation. It really is more of a thought experiment than anything else. How would our present cultural structure change? How would an abused child behave with such power? How would a gangster? A politician?
There are specific issues typically reserved for women, like rape, that become a man’s problem. In The Power, men are the victims of rape, harassment, assault, and ultimately, if we are judging by the letters at the end, are the new society’s homemakers. Women then are the providers and protectors. I think this oversimplifies the roles of women and men, but I understand why the book does it. Much of the gender role analysis in the story is basic. But again, I think there’s a larger investigation at work within the book.
For example, there’s a scene in which two of the characters are caught in a war zone. They witness a band of rogue soldiers attacking refugees, slaughtering women and children, and raping. Only in this world, these soldiers are women. It’s uncomfortable to visualize women banding together and killing children. I found it hard to suspend my disbelief long enough to even entertain the notion. But that’s the kind of unease I think the author is seeking. Would absolute power corrupt mothers to the point that they would kill children? Another potential consequence for the reader to ponder.
All said and done, this book has stayed with me. It’s questions haunt me. Human brokenness is not limited to one gender or the other. A broken person with unlimited power can cause tremendous damage. But unlimited power, unlimited lethal power, in the hands of any person, woman or man, can be violent and often is. And it can undo any role previously established, tearing through the fabric of civilization like a bolt of lightening.