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  • Heroines of our Time
  • Rachele Salvini (bio)
Kingdom of Women
Rosalie Morales Kearns
Jaded Ibis Press
290 Pages; Print, $17.99

Some novels are written—and usually read—exactly at the time they should be. They pose questions to our nature, even if they seem very far from the reality we are living, much like Kingdom of Women.

Rosalie Morales Kearns, a writer of Puerto Rican and Pennsylvania Dutch descent, published the magic-realist story collection Virgin and Tricksters (2012) before embarking on the arduous process of writing a novel. Kingdom of Women is a dystopian novel set in an undetermined future that still holds dangerously similar elements from modern society.

The plot revolves around Averil Parnell, the world's first female Catholic priest. Her path to practice starts with a tragedy, as the first class of female priests gets shot on the day of their ordination ceremony. Averil is the only survivor, and she now lives a life of contradiction: She is haunted by both the dogma of Catholicism and by the anger of all women who have experienced the violence of men. She is tormented by dreams and visions throughout the novel, which, together with the constant shifting of point of view, create an eerie atmosphere. The reader may not always be able to tell what is really happening from what is not. And yet, there is a beautiful and terrifying realism in Kearns's book.

In an essay In A Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Sister Mary Francis Slattery claims that, even in genres that are not commonly associated with realism (epic poems, lyrics, experimental fiction etc.), readers look for probability and internal consistency in the plot and for familiar details that they themselves associate with real-life experience to get a sense of homeliness. When reading books like Kingdom of Women, it is natural to wonder what realism really means. In the novel, in fact, the realistic elements of society—the FBI interrogating Averil on her knowledge of terrorist groups, the dilemma of a young graduate student blackmailed by a male professor who could jeopardize her career—touch very close to home, and yet don't really give the readers a sense of homeliness. Rather, they get a sense of unsettlement and discomfort coming from the striking similarities between this undetermined future in the United States and the moment we are living now, in 2018.

One of the best characteristics of the novel is that it does not attempt to give us solutions to prevent our patriarchal society becoming a world where women need to turn to violence to avoid being assaulted or even raped and murdered. The novel instead asks many questions, and if it tries to answer any, the author does it by making the reader aware of humans complexity and natural self-contradiction.

Even as Averil follows the teachings of the Church, she understands deeply the anger of the women who want their revenge on the men who ruined their lives. Despite her hatred of the rapists and murderers these women are fighting, she develops a sordid relationship with handsome John Honig, who has a past as a serial rapist. Averil also befriends Catherine Beck, a former military officer who forms a group of women who assassinate rapists and murderers.

Throughout the book, the point of view shifts from Averil's to Catherine's to other minor characters, depicting a colorful yet dark range of personalities battling their own internal conflicts. It is not easy to pick a side in Kingdom of Women—all characters seem equally relatable, and they represent the contradiction of humankind in different shades.

The novel could not come at a better time; more than ever, women are speaking up against sexual misbehavior, and an important conversation has started. Yet the novel does not encourage revenge and violence against male perpetrators of injustice and abuse. Rather, it makes the reader wonder: What is the right answer to violence? What are the implications of fury and punishment? And to what extent humans can be compassionate and tolerant? The audience may feel a pang of satisfaction when reading about groups of...


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