Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Review - Why God Is a Woman by Nin Andrews

In this collection of prose poetry, Nin Andrews takes the traditional gender roles of a patriarchal culture and completely inverts them.  Through this very satirical exploration, Andrews mines her alternative reality so that it, and the source of the satire, can be more clearly seen as the bizarre concept that it is.  While there were some bits and pieces that were highly fantastical, Why God Is a Woman generally portrays the up-turned reality to great effect.

In the land called Island, women hold all of the positions of power.  They automatically get respect and admiration in whatever they undertake.  Most of the women choose to be called Angelina, despite being named something else, because Angelina Jolie is the feminine ideal.  In fact, there are many poems where it's tough to figure out who the females are, or how many of them are present, because they all go by "Angelina".  While the women perform most of the jobs in society, men are expected to stay home and raise the children.  Working men are constantly harassed by females about when they're planning to get married and start a family.

Men also serve as sex objects.  Their outfits consist of loose-fitting tops left unbuttoned to expose the chest and abs, as well as the distinctive Islander tattoo that travels below the navel.  The pants are tight-fitting Lycra, meant to display the thighs and buttocks for the enjoyment of women.  Men are expected to maintain a certain grooming style and body image - very muscular and toned bodies, no facial or body hair, and youthful-looking skin.  Plastic surgery and spa treatments are very popular among the men, and they gather regularly in beauty salons to gossip.

One of the fantastical elements of Island society is that, when a man reaches a certain age, he sprouts wings from his back.  As the wings emerge, the man bleeds and has to wear absorbent pads over the openings.  The size of a man's wingspan is directly correlated to his lovemaking abilities, and a man with small wings is basically an outcast on Island.  The narrator of these poems is a man who had very small wings, and chose to leave his friends and family to live out his life in seclusion.  Through the poems, he is reminiscing about his life on Island, his lost love Angelina, and how much he disagreed with the matriarchy.

I enjoyed Why God Is a Woman for the ways that it played with the stereotypes and gender roles in a patriarchal culture.  However, I found many of these stereotypes to be satirized too obviously and with too heavy a hand.  It was as if the author had a checklist of different critiques and points that she wanted to make, and you could see her ticking each box as she moved through the poems.  I wished there was more nuance to the poetry itself and especially to the messages that were being conveyed.

There are almost 80 individual poems, and 75% of them begin with either "On the Island Where I Come From" or "On the Island Where I Grew Up".  The reason for this repetition wasn't obvious or explained, and did not serve the story in any meaningful way.  As a result, I found the flow to be disjointed and, because of that, the collection didn't feel cohesive.   It could have been shortened significantly and the message would have remained just as clear.

Why God Is a Woman is an interesting and thought-provoking poetry collection.  It clearly lampoons patriarchal culture through examination under a highly satirical lens.  There are some issues with formatting and structure that diminish its message somewhat, but overall it was a very worthwhile read.

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