The Book of Etta, by Meg Elison (47 North, 2017). This novel is the sequel to the Philip K. Dick Award-winning The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, but can be easily read on its own. Generations ago, a plague swept the world, killing most of the women and leaving the survivors at grave risk in childbirth. The expected chaos resulted, social disintegration, and enslavement of the few remaining fertile women.
Now various communities have evolved their own cultures with varying roles for the women, often in isolation and ignorance of one another. Etta lives in Nowhere, a fortified community in which women hold power as Mothers and Midwives. She frets against her mother’s expectations, keeps her lesbian love affair secret, and flees to the outside world under the guise of a scavenger of old technology and rescuer of enslaved women. In this role, she becomes Eddy, but the switch is not mere disguise for safety. The prose shifts to the male pronoun to emphasize the transformation in identity. As the story unfolds, it becomes more and more clear that Etta/Eddy flips back and forth from one persona to the other, and clues emerge as to the origin of the personality split. In his adventures, Eddy encounters underground havens, trading centers where transgender “horsewomen” live openly as women, and a vicious tyrant bent on conquest.
Elison weaves together elements of dystopia and hope, tense action and inner anguish, into a compelling tale of survival and self-revelation. Highly recommended, although with a caution for younger readers.