I think next time I want to get riled up about misogyny, sexism, and mansplaining, I’m going to read this book again. It marks the first time in my reviewer life that I’ve looked up an author to make sure that they weren’t in fact a 12 year old child before proverbially ripping them a new one online.
I’m determined not to be one of those reviewers who joyfully shit on other people’s work. And for the most part, I have always found something that I’ve enjoyed within an otherwise terrible book. But I can’t say this of ‘Psycho B*tches’. I’m going to try to describe why I had such an issue with this book in as calm and thoughtful a manner as possible.
Let me say this for the people in the back. Women are not fucking stupid. We do not need you, Rick Wood, to explain our own lived experiences to us. I’m not sure whether it’s laziness or ignorance, but the subtlety with which the feminist angle of this novel is delivered is like a shovel to the teeth.
It’s my own fault, I take full responsibility for making a purchasing decision based on the cover alone. I’ve been lulled into a false sense of awesome security by recent novels like: ‘My best friend’s exorcism’, ‘Southern Book Club’s guide to slaying vampires’, and Goosebumps.
The simple (and cool sounding premise) of the book is that women worldwide have turned into aggressive monsters, and our protagonist wants to know whether this includes his twin sister, Kaylee. He sets off across the country, fighting to find her, hoping that she won’t kill him when he does.
Alright, I can get along with that. Sounds like a zombie novel. Cool beans.
The problem is that the zombie theme is just a background to Rick Wood’s strangely ill-advised feminist soapbox. If this is feminism, we might as well stuff our voting slips down our gullets until we cork it now.
It’s not that the novel is ill-meaning (I hope), it’s just that Rick Wood takes a crushingly shallow approach to the idea of feminism. I’ve been around the internet long enough to know the voice of a ‘nice guy’, and this, unfortunately, feels like a mansplainy feminist manifesto which has been built around a rushed read of ‘Everyday sexism’ by Laura Barnes, rather than actually talking and listening to the women in his life. Top this with little understanding of subtlety, and you’ve got a novel which will make you want to tear out pages and cut your wrists with them.
Even in the Amazon listing – Rick Wood says: ‘Warning: This book contains graphic language and gratuitous violence. It is also meant to be pro-feminism, and is hugely ironic. Please, only read if you are as screwed up as I am – Rick Wood, the author’
Even with this listing caveat, and the knowledge that Wood intended this to be ironic – it’s simply not clever enough to be a successful satire. The idea of gender politics is handled so clumsily that the only irony is that the novel is supposed to be pro-feminism. The first half was slightly reminiscent of ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman (in that Twilight is slightly reminiscent of Harry Potter). Yes, ‘The Power’ was based on the theme of overthrowing the Patriarchy by giving women a physical advantage – yes, it was very successful – yes, the thematics were pretty heavy-handed – but ultimately it was about the fact that there is human weakness that exists in both genders when it comes to power and control. Psycho B*tches misses this subtlety entirely, and the reason this provokes so much anger in me is because Wood clearly doesn’t think his audience intelligent enough to grasp what he’s trying to say without beating us over the head with the theme.
You might be thinking, oh for fucks sake, this is a zombie novel, just focus on the horror theme and gruesome points in the story – and I would! By GOD I wish this was just a zombie novel – but every scene in this novel exists to push this bizarre pro-feminist (actually not at all) agenda. In fact, the zombie women don’t just want to eat the men, they also want to subject them to bizarre humiliating sexual scenarios. They catcall, they whistle, they molest their victims. I mean, what the fuck. I’m sorry, no.
- You don’t get to use feminism as a plot device if it’s delivered this poorly.
- You can’t compare all men to blood-thirsty zombies. Not only is it ridiculous, but it actually presents this bizarre idea that instead of men being accountable for their actions and capable of making choices about how they interact with women, they are simply slaves to their hormones and ‘inner monster’.
I could tell it was written by a man. A man who I assume has gained most of his understanding of everyday sexism and our experience by reading about it rather than asking any of the women in his life. It reminds me of this SNL sketch:
Oh, and this is just the starting rant. I wouldn’t be surprised if the book hadn’t been edited, as I found numerous spelling errors and the writing was lazy – like a stream of consciousness where the first cliche that popped into his head was the one he went with. In addition, the characters (aged between early teens to senior citizens) were parodies of themselves.
Wood relies on stereotypes to prop up his characters, including one of the first we meet – a man who has his ‘bollocks bitten off’ by his ex-girlfriend who’s turned. He’s an arsehole from Yorkshire whose wife hates him and who speaks like a 2D chimpanzee straight out of Eastenders, saying: “You don’t get it, love – you lost! Give it up, darling.” The way the narrator describes his car in third-person but for some reason uses the character’s voice: ‘His BMW hadn’t been purring like it usually did, but after some twisting and turning of a few cogs he’d have his pussy magnet ready soon […] He shakes his head defiantly and scratches scared off the list straight away – no bitch is going to make him scared.’
For those interested, the female zombie transformation occurs in the following stages:
- The woman becomes irritable and becomes more outspoken.
- She starts to use foul language and being disrespectful towards women in particular, like this corker: “Just don’t go shagging around in Freshers Week like I did,” Shania says, not lifting her face from her food. “Those bitches are full of crabs. And however fit they are when the beer goggles are on, they’ll look like munters in the morning […] That cunt was a filthy whore. Mr Hogsmith shouldn’t have married such a slut.”
- They start to objectify men: ‘It wasn’t just the walk. It was the way they chewed open mouthed, sat with their legs spread wide open, grinned at you like they were mentally undressing you and there was nothing you could do to stop them.’
- They start to hang around in groups and assault men: ‘A group of women outside the chippy are being rowdy and making a lot of noise, laughing and strutting around like they own the street. I catch a few snippets of conversation, things like “got to get that dick while it’s fresh” or “he was a fucking munter” or “mate, it ain’t rape if you shout surprise first.”’
- Then they start attacking all men: ‘He huddles into a ball, cowering; but they don’t just kill him. First, they play with him – pulling his top off, and his trousers, grabbing him in places he does not want to be grabbed. He tries to get up and run away, but they catcall him and drag him back.’
All of it is so fucking awful. We have to read through an attempted rape scene of a young boy by slathering female zombies who somehow have the presence of mind to taunt the boy rather than being simply mindless, as an undead monster driven by the urge to kill would be. These aren’t zombies, this is the utter twisting and destruction of a literary genre in order to fit the author’s own needs.
And the kicker?? We find out that scientists believe that the phenomenon is caused by “a mixture of semen and mobile phones”. Our protagonist’s reaction is to think: “It appears that men have literally fucked women into being mental.”
Wood tries towards the end of the book to present a sort of manifesto speech, whereby the protagonist convinces someone from the government that men are responsible for driving women crazy and as such, if they can prove themselves worthy, they will “win back womankind once again.” While this might be true for a world in which institutional sexism and general inequality is standard – these are fucking zombies. T’ain’t going to work, buddy.
It’s not clever, it’s cringeworthy and it’s quite simply an assault on the zombie genre. For a zombie who is driven by their sexual urges as well as their urge to kill, I recommend ‘Let the right one in’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist instead.
Basically, avoid this book if you’re a woman or a feminist who doesn’t want to be ironically at risk of turning into an angry, slathering version of herself (because that’s the state I was at by the time I ended the book and threw it into my garden).
PS. Forgot! I liked a single sentence in this book, so I’ll give it due props: “He is sure he can see blood trickling down her chin, but the rain washes it away too quickly to tell.” That’s on page 9. That’s it. You’re welcome.