Sally Miller Gearheart, The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women (1979)

I have a sense that I read a review of this with more or less the single word “unreadable” about twenty years ago.  I tried to read the volume without this in mind, but found that difficult, as there was little ongoing plot to hold onto and it is of a flavour of feminism I’m not exactly sympathetic to. I need to go away and read Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will to get a better grasp of the feminism of the period which I suspect lies under the book.

There’s been some kind of disaster and/or revolution, and the women all live in the hills outside of the city, in harmony with nature and in telepathic communication with each other and animals. Men are confined to cities, and their machinery will only work there. A few select women enter the city to try and re-education men, but mostly life is happy (for the women) in a separatist utopia. To the extent that there is a narrative uniting the chapters/vignettes, it the sense that this can’t go on forever, and the men are not to be trusted not to spoil things. 

The temptation here is to fall back into the essentialism that other feminists undercut – women are allied with nature and men with machines, women with the ciuntry and men with the city. I can see how – after several centuries of patriarchy – women may wish to take their lives elsewhere, but it feels in the realm of the lousy solution. Readable, but uncomfortable.

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