Back in April I decided to spend a month reading only books by women, which actually turned into two months. I wrote about one of these books, Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, and how it blew my mind. I’d planned to make that a series, but ongoing housing instability has made it difficult to get reading done, let alone write about what I have read.
During those two months of women-only reading I bought The Gunslinger, the first in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, but didn’t start it. I stumbled across it again recently and was excited to dig in, but holy shit – I’m having trouble getting through it. Not because the story is bad, it actually has me quite intrigued, but because I’m only on page 61 and already the treatment of women is deeply shitty.
There have been three female characters in the book so far: Alice, Sylvia Pittston, and Soobie. Alice is a barmaid who our Gunslinger, Roland, beds in exchange for information. She is defined by being just barely pretty enough to fuck and her desperation for male attention.
“The scar would not show in the dark. Her body was lean enough so the desert and grit and grind hadn’t been able to sag everything. And she’d once been pretty, maybe even beautiful.”
What’s amazing about this is that Roland desperately needs information she has, so presumably he would bed her however she looked. But we are still treated to this assessment of her fuckability.
Sylvia Pittston is a little more interesting, a charismatic preacher who sends the townsfolk into paroxysms of orgasmic faith with her fiery sermons. But, it turns out, she is merely a puppet of The Man in Black whom The Gunslinger is tracking. The Man in Black has had sex with her (of course) and impregnated her with some kind of demon.
Demonic possession has been dealt with many ways in fictional history, but Roland’s method is uniquely aggressive. He forces Sylvia’s legs open and, as she screams ‘No’ over and over again, shoves his gun inside her, and dispatches the demon. It’s such an unnecessary scene of sexual violence, and it’s carried out by our ‘hero’ in the first 60 pages of the novel.
“The girl looked at him bovinely. Her breasts thrust with overripe grandeur at the wash-faded shirt she wore. One thumb sought the haven of her mouth with dream-like slowness.”
It’s almost impressive: Soobie is dehumanised, eroticised, and infantilised all within three sentences.
Anyway, not sure if I’ll finish this book, but either way it’s a very grim return to the words of men.