Naomi Alderman on the World That Yielded ‘The Power’

“The Power,” Naomi Alderman’s recent work of speculative fiction, tackles a freighted question: What would happen in a conventional society if the roles of men and women were flipped, so that women were the aggressors?

The “power” of the title is embedded in young women. Lodged within a strip of muscle running along their collarbones, it can produce a deadly electrical charge that renders them able to zap men at will, enfeebling or exterminating them, or just jolting them for sexual kicks. Given that kind of control, how would they act? Would they harness their energy to create a world envisioned in books like “Herland,” the 1915 feminist fable in which a treacherous male-dominated universe gives way to a matriarchy of peace, justice and empathy.

Probably not. In her dystopian tale, Ms. Alderman, 42, conjures hellish scenes in which rampaging females roam the countryside, maiming and killing, she writes, “because they can.”

Her novel, first published in England, has resonated with American readers. Published last year by Little, Brown, it was named one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2017 and has been described as “The Handmaid’s Tale” for a millennial generation. (Margaret Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” was Ms. Alderman’s mentor.)

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