Many years ago—no, it’s not polite to ask how many—when I was an undergrad at the University of Connecticut, I took a course in twentieth-century women’s fiction. The course was taught by the women’s studies department, and I was the only male in the class. I was introduced to the work of Margaret Drabble, Anne Tyler, Alice Munro, and Margaret Atwood (before The Handmaid’s Tale) and several others; we discussed one book a week at our seminar.
About the fourth week, I raised my hand to complain that I was having trouble with these books. I whined about not being able to identify with anyone in them—all the men were jerks. When I finished, there was some chuckling, and then the women in that class gave me a gift.
They were patient with me. They kindly explained that the experience I was having was so commonplace for them that it did not even warrant comment most of the time. This is what they went through in every literature class.
They would have had every right to laugh at me and put me in my place, but they didn’t, and it changed me profoundly. More than giving me some empathy for my comrades, though, it was the first time I can remember being aware of my privilege. Everything around me, right down to the Great Literature we studied, was selected to make me feel comfortable.
I was completely gobsmacked by this realization. It made me aware of a profound injustice I had simply ignored all of my young life.
Wendy, Darling, by A. C. Wise, has blown my mind all over again. First, it is brilliantly written. You don’t have to be a lover of gorgeous prose to love this book, but if you are, you will. Ms. Wise takes a children’s story—one I have mostly thought was tedious, or, at worst, benign—and transformed it for me. This is the story after Neverland, when Wendy is a grown woman and must return to Peter and his thugs to rescue her daughter. Ms. Wise is a writer of thoughtful horror, and this book is no different. By seeing, really seeing, this world through Wendy’s eyes, we see the crushing effect of toxic, sinister, and deeply insecure masculinity in a horrifying manifestation.
Is Peter the carefree symbol of youth, as we were all taught? If you believe that to be true, if you believe this is a happy jaunt for children, read Wendy, Darling. If you have daughters, read Wendy, Darling to them so they will not feel alone in the world of children’s stories, so they will have someone to cheer for. If you have sons, read Wendy, Darling to them, and make them see.
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