The story is told through the eyes and words of Nathan, a 23-year-old who is the storyteller of the Group. The Group was a self-sustaining commune of sorts in a remote area known as the Valley of Rocks, then the plague came and took all the women. We are lead to assume that the world at large is also bereft of women. In the Valley of the Rocks, the men live simply on the food they grow and catch and with the help of renewable energy. There is no technology; there is the earth, and the men and Nathan to tell their stories.
One aspect of The Beauty I found refreshing was the fatality of it all. If all women have died, then this is the last of humankind, so wherever the story takes me, I’m down. I’m not invested in any of the men’s survival, because without women, there is no human race so they are doomed. I’m excited by what happens with this premise. I found the story that unfolds has some predictable elements; clearly something will take the place of the women, and somehow there will be procreation, right? Given that framework, I’m interested in the answers to those central questions and Aliya Whiteley delivers in a most disconcerting fashion. What are The Beauty? Monsters, mothers, or men? Where does this leave humans? What can take the place of women?
A fascinating part of this book is the difference in how the teenage boys perceive the idea of women as opposed to the experiences of the older men. The teens only remember women as their mothers and potential sex objects. The old men knew women as wives and mothers of their children.
As Nathan says on page 49:
“Am I missing some element of love? The Beauty offer comfort, sex, and softness. What else is there?”
Throughout The Beauty, Nathan questions gender norms. As the story flows, the very nature of the male/female genders becomes increasingly pointless. We move past gender to questioning whether or not humans own what it is to be human. Ultimately, Nathan leaves the Valley of Rocks to “find out what remains of humanity.” I am not sure what he is going to find, and in his world, I’m not sure it matters anymore.
The Beauty is novella length with 103 pages, so this is a quick, but heavy (and did I mention pretty horrifying?) read -especially if you don’t like mushrooms. After you are done reading, I’d love to know if you related to The Beauties or if they remained foreign to you.