I wanted to love Naomi Alderman’s The Power so much. Heck, it was one of President Obama’s 2017 favorites. I suggested it to my new (and offline!) book group, which I should have known was the kiss of death. In truth, The Power could have been so much more. Instead, it just didn’t wow me.
The premise seems simple enough. In the not-so-distant future, young women begin discovering that they’ve got a source of electrical power wound near their collarbones. They can use it for good or evil, and some learn to increase it exponentially. They share this knowledge with friends, of course. And some share with the older women in their lives, like their moms. But power changes people, as we know.
Alderman tells the story with alternating points-of-view. Allie is a child of the foster care system who longs for a way out of her unhappy home. Roxy is a tough English chick who’s already seen a lot in her young life. Margot and Jocelyn are mother and daughter. Margot has designs on traditional economic and political power. Jocelyn simply struggles to grasp her personal status in an uncertain time. The final POV is Tunde, a young Nigerian journalist who hopes to use the explosive world events as his ticket to a big career.
Flipping back and forth through the narratives, Alderman paints a world accelerating into chaos. The forces of conflict are both universal and personal for her characters. But the descriptions of this monumental time fell flat for me. They just didn’t hold the drama and energy I was expecting. I wanted to care more deeply for these characters, to feel their pain and exhilaration in my literary soul. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way.
It was a fast-paced read, but that was primarily because it was shallow in story line and characterizations. I wanted more than the ending I got—more complication, more heartbreak, more…anything.
I did like how Alderman takes our “standard”perspective on gender equality and turns it on its head. But she made it so one-note, when in fact gender issues are complex. She doesn’t include transgender issues. In fact the whole story is focused on heteronormative, cisgender perspectives. On top of that, race is never addressed in any clear way. The Power could have stood some intersectional themes, which would have made it more real and less Disney fairy tale.
I enjoyed some of the sizzle but ultimately The Power just fizzled for me. There’s a reveal at the end which should be a fantastic twist. It’s more a head scratcher for me, and an example of an author trying just a bit to hard to spark a bigger flame.