It’s a beautiful spring day in the city as people stroll through the parks. Families are buying fresh greens from the farmer’s market, workers are hustling up and down Main St. to get to work. All seems well and good, until every blonde woman becomes a homicidal maniac. No, seriously.
Emily Schultz uses allegorical horror and dark humor to show that nothing is really as it seems in her novel, The Blondes (Picador, paperback, April 12). Named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2015, Schultz comments on social constructs placed on women, like the need to be attractive and docile to male counterparts.
Because her novel has such a wild and disturbing premise, we asked Schultz where she thinks horror fits into popular culture. Here’s her thoughts:
Question: While The Blondes is, in part, a satire on beauty, there’s also something deeply scary about hundreds of blonde women going on a murderous rampage! Do you think telling unsettling stories like this one are important for a society’s growth?
Emily Schultz: I’d agree we need to tell unsettling stories but do they affect society? One thing to note is nothing we come up with as writers can be as horrifying as the reality of, say, being a woman in Texas. As well, telling political stories without allegory can be taxing for readers. My idea of a disease unleashing women’s rage is a way to look at what happens when an entire gender has to fight for basic dignity every day. The premise of the book is fantastic, but there’s a truth to it.
The novel is humorous at its heart—but it is also about injustice, which is as close as we come to horror in life. I wrote about a grad student whose course of study is Aesthetology, or the study of looking, which (in this fictional universe) began when the Harvard School of Anthropology created an advanced course of studies in partnership with Empire Beauty Schools as a way to increase female enrolment in the sciences. When I allowed this character to become imprisoned and an unwanted pregnancy forced upon her all because of the color of her hair, I thought I was exaggerating conflicts; now I wonder if I went far enough?
I wrote the first draft when we were in a very different place as a culture than we are today. The policing that begins to occur with the disease was intended as my reaction the post-9/11 world. But what happens is that when a work sits, even for the very short period of time that occurs between writing and publishing, the world changes. Now, the book exists in a society where I see the effects of the absolute militarization of police, not to mention an almost fanatical level of hatred being leveled at whole groups of peoples, especially and including women.