Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review of Commune of Women

Suzan Still’s experimental novel, Commune of Women, is a remarkable accomplishment. The women of the title are gathered together through sheer accident at Los Angeles International Airport. Strangers to one another, they represent a veritable cross section of humanity—a homeless woman, a psychologist, a former army medic—you get the idea-- they couldn’t be more diverse. Still convincingly speaks in all of their voices, as they, like Boccaccio’s captive group in The Decameron, tell stories to pass the time and keep terror at bay.

Their stories unfold, through four day’s time, simultaneously with another story, that of a young woman separated from her group, the Brothers, in another small room, where she observes events on security monitors and television. Her internal monologue discloses her own past, recounts the lives of some of her troubled band, and muses on her role as the only woman in the cell.

The spare setting—two closed rooms—is offset by the fascinating narratives told by the women, narratives that take the reader to an aristocratic home in France, to war-torn Palestine, to a life of poverty and abuse in the American south. Some of the stories are humorous, some tragic, but all are deeply human. In the present, the women respond to the situation, enduring fear and supporting one another in the midst of chaos.

It’s hard to put this book down. The reader simply must know what will happen to these women. Commune of Women is cautionary tale of our troubled times. One can only hope to behave half as well as these women caught up in events beyond their control.

--Dr. Hope Werness,  author of The Continuum Encyclopedia of Native Art

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