Deep in the California woods on an evening in late August, Jane Pearson is camping with her husband Leo and their five-year-old son Benjamin. As dusk sets in, she drifts softly to sleep in a hammock strung outside the tent where Leo and Benjamin are preparing for bed. At that moment, every single person with a Y chromosome vanishes around the world, disappearing from operating theaters mid-surgery, from behind the wheels of cars, from arguments and acts of love. Children, adults, even fetuses are gone in an instant. Leo and Benjamin are gone. No one knows why, how, or where. After the Disappearance, Jane forces herself to enter a world she barely recognizes, one where women must create new ways of living while coping with devastating grief. As people come together to rebuild depopulated industries and distribute scarce resources, Jane focuses on reuniting with an old college girlfriend, Evangelyne Moreau, leader of the Commensalist Party of America, a rising political force in this new world. Meanwhile, strange video footage called "The Men" is being broadcast online showing images of the vanished men marching through barren, otherworldly landscapes. Is this just a hoax, or could it hold the key to the Disappearance?
The idealised man-free existence is always fighting against the gravity of affection. Sandra Newman’s novel The Men takes that quandary and does something clever with it ... It’s a morally hard-edged and grippingly weird fiction ... Newman can write a beautiful sentence, the kind that unfolds itself into a small revelation ... This is a gripping, haunting novel that miraculously swerves both cheap misandry and the lazy pieties of contemporary rectitude to ask: what is to be done when politics smashes into the demands of love?
I just saved you the excruciating experience of reading Sandra Newman’s The Men, the most ill-conceived and badly executed novel of the year, if our God is a merciful one ... This is the kind of circular logic that drives The Men, and you think surely not, surely we’re not just going to spin endlessly around this one dumb idea until we puke from dizziness, but we are and we do ... A book that could be about how women would build a different world becomes a rumination on all the bad things men have done. Things happen, but we don’t see much of it ... 'The world would get better if only this one specific demographic could be eradicated from the face of the Earth' is an extremely weird thought to have, and it’s even weirder not only to write it down but to prattle on about it for a couple of hundred pages. I guess we’re just lucky Newman decided to use 'men' and not 'the Jews' or whatever ... She is not a thoughtful writer and she stumbles over stereotypes and clichés. Here, she doesn’t just trip over the stereotype of men bad/women good, she builds a house with it as her foundation. She only makes it worse by trying to wokeify the text, sprinkling in mentions of trans and nonbinary people in the clumsiest way possible as if she remembered in the final draft that trans people existed and had to be accounted for in her scheme of damnation.
It is in the exploration of these areas, the hinterland beyond the shock headline, that The Men really intrigues and disturbs. Indeed, once both characters and readers have absorbed the mass disappearances and their immediate effects – the collapse of industries and utilities chiefly run by men, and the ensuing plane crashes, power outages and lack of policing; the vast reduction in sexual violence and assault, and the “sweet clamour of voices in the air” when those voices belong only to women and girls – it is the less immediately obvious fallout that dominates ... it seems too literal to read the book as a simple equation in which the existence of men equals the death of hope for the future, even as one might also argue that the stark set-up makes such a conclusion tricky to avoid. The Men is a confusing novel, full of fraught ideas and jangling emotions, and a prose style that veers from affectlessness and distance to attempts to capture vulnerability ... At its strongest, however, it is an exploration of attachment, its lure and its peril, and the impossibility of its eradication from human affairs.