... a soft boil of violences against women’s bodies, sure — but mostly a simmering of the mind. It is unrushed in building and deconstructing complex themes, revolving mainly around what it can mean to be a woman in patriarchal societies on the hunt for 'devils' that could be you ... Giddings has an incredible handle on the American family, on religious nationalism and how it impacts everyone. She writes with wisdom, grace and a skilled hand; her work is seamless on the page, especially on matters involving identity and all manners of diversity, which in lesser hands could feel didactic ... That’s also due in part to the depth of her characters; they are not archetypes but real people in unreal circumstances ... The arcs Giddings draws over Josie’s core relationships — with Preston, with Angie, with her parents — shimmer with intelligence and humanity, and they determine her fate ... If this all feels like raw material for a binge-worthy television show, it is not because this novel needs adapting but because it feels flexible, transcending familiar forms. And yet it succeeds exquisitely as what it is. Like a woman without a partner, Giddings’ second novel is already complete.
For a piece of speculative fiction to succeed, the foundational abnormality must feel present and lived in. Not scaffolding, but substructure. Yet for a good portion of this book, the actual witchery falls away. The island section of the book is thrilling, but with Jo’s return to her old life, the speculative elements of the novel’s world-building retreat, like the island itself, to the realm of hearsay and rumor. We are left with a gendered McCarthyism ... Sometimes, the idea of timeliness can sit like a curtain over a novel, both emphasizing and obscuring the work itself. 'Timeliness' can infuse a book with greater personal and social resonance, but it can also hollow out a novel, encouraging readers to see “issue” rather than 'story' ... It can be tempting to read The Women Could Fly, which comes in the shadow of the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and call the book timely. But the relationship at the heart of this novel — between Jo and her mercurial mother — is much closer to timeless.
The body blows felt when an evocative scent hits is familiar to those who know that a long-ago grief can be summoned in a single breath. Giddings salts her cloudlike prose with these types of immersive sensory details ... Giddings takes readers on a journey of magical realism, but in doing so, she asks readers to question how such a world functions against a reality where oppression has circumscribed human possibility. Magical realism creates a possibility of rebellion that lies outside the reach of a surveillance society, but it's one that requires creation of a separate reality. Unable to effect real political change, is it better to retreat? And can individual acts of magic have any effect on systemic violence? ... Part of the brilliance of Giddings' novel is that the larger questions she is asking are subtle, and readers who are looking for immersion in a magical world of female autonomy will find much to love ... As the summer of our discontent scorches us sere, the coolness of Lake Superior's waters and the promise that an alternative world is a boat ride away is a soothing balm. But beneath its surface, The Women Could Fly boils as hot as a witch's cauldron.