Collaborative novels can be tricky propositions, even for writers as accomplished as the father-son duo of Stephen and Owen King. Each author’s stylistic and thematic concerns can stick out in jarring ways, creating a mashup far less seamless than either author perhaps would like. Sleeping Beauties is not one of those novels. In the grand tradition of team-ups like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens and Stephen King’s own The Talisman (with Peter Straub), it is a triumph of two voices blending wonderfully to take us into a dark and all-too-real dream.
All the women in the Appalachian town of Dooling (and around the world) are falling asleep and refusing to wake up. Once sleep takes them, their bodies are covered by a mysterious, fluffy coating, and if they are disturbed, they awaken as homicidal maniacs. This development naturally sows chaos, inciting riots across the nation and sending men into a frenzy. In Dooling, though, there’s something different: Evie, an enigmatic woman with strange abilities, seems unaffected by the sleeping sickness. Some men think she’s a monster, others a savior, but whatever side they take in a world without women, Dooling is transformed into a powder keg.
Sleeping Beauties traffics in some very potent themes, from the obvious question of what an all-male society would devolve into to less obvious concerns like the politics of a women’s prison and the evolution of sexuality during the aging process. None of these issues, though, are dealt with cheaply or crudely. The book wields the best attributes of each author—Stephen’s ability to ratchet up tension, Owen’s wit and their joint gifts for character detail—with a deftness that makes it feel like the work of a single hybrid imagination. In the authors’ hands, the themes and characters of Sleeping Beauties become powerful fictional case studies, holding the mirror up to our own powder keg of a society in unforgettable and often unnerving ways.