What can you say about a science fiction novel that begins with a first-person account of a 16-year-old girl masturbating with her gun? Tricia Sullivan’s Maul (in print in UK only, alas) counterposes a present-day story in which gangs of teenage girls fight gun battles in the Garden State Plaza shopping mall (called the “maul” in a New Jersey accent), with a far-future story in which sperm is a precious commodity because most males have been wiped out by the “Y-plagues” (genetically engineered designer diseases — originally manufactured, we are told, by men rather than women — that target the Y chromosome). The present-day story is crazed and exhilarating, as teen girl gangs — versed in the poetry of brand names above all else — trash the cosmetics counter at Lord and Taylor, lock hostages into the oven at California Pizza Kitchen, and hide weapons caches in the prom dress display at Laura Ashley. The future story is grimmer (or at least, less of a high). It involves a society where the routinization of the “society of the spectacle,” and the commodification of all aspects of existence, is correlated with a suppression of male aggression, so that the restoration of testosterone-fueled stupidity, oafishness, and gratuitous violence comes across as something that’s potentially liberating for both genders. Both plots are messy and turn back upon themselves: the riot-grrl rampage eventually metamorphoses into a surreal video game, while the future-world plot starts out as claustrophobically self-enclosed, but mutates as it spirals outward, eventually junking plot closure in favor of a logic of accelerating contamination and infection. In both cases, what happens on the level of narrative structure mimics what happens to the characters within the narrative: so the book explodes conventional gendered identities from both ends. I’m not quite sure where Maul leaves us, at the end of its wild ride, but the book is great both for its extremity, and for the way it deliberately, almost cruelly, chafes at the wounds of gender in our “post-feminist” and ultracommodified era.

One Response to “Maul”

  1. Sizemore says:

    Just ordered it (along with the new Cormac McCarthy!) on the strength of that review.

    Looking forward to hearing you on Friday!

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