The Book of Etta

The Book of Etta (2017) by Meg Elison is the second book in The Road to Nowhere series, which begins with The Book of the Unnamed Midwife.

We meet Etta/ Eddy, a daughter of Nowhere, the town the Unnamed had come to after her long journey. Etta goes by Eddy when she is out raiding, because to be a woman in the world outside Nowhere is to be in danger at all times. While she does scavenge for useful items from the before times, her main focus is to rescue women that are held in bondage, regardless of their age, and bring them back to Nowhere, where they are protected and revered as midwives, mothers, and artisans of all kinds.

One day they are in Estiel with its great arch (what St. Louis has become) and they meet the Lion, the man who rules with actual big cats and seizes women and girls where ever his men go. It’s terrifying, but Eddy vows to come back and free every woman and girl, as that’s what the Unnamed would have done.

Before Eddy can form a plan, they are hurt in a raid of another village, by the Lion, and found by another group. This group, called Ommun, seems loosely based on Mormons, but they have dozens of babies and girls, and Eddy thinks they might be located underground somehow. Their leader is a woman, their “mother”, Prophet Alma, who safely has triplets while Etta and other women watch. Ommun seems too good to be true, but Etta/ Eddy leads a “mish” with a group of Ommun’s men, finding out they have access to an arsenal of weapons and are located in an underground bunker.

Etta/ Eddy struggles both with their own gender identity and sexual orientation, as in their world women need to become mothers in order for the survival of the community, but she has no attraction for men. Out in the world, they are Eddy, but in Nowhere, they remain Etta. The entire book would provide interesting analysis for a gender studies class.

As per Elison’s usual, there was no anti-fatness, and there was some fat positivity in that the Prophet Alma “was the most beautiful woman [Eddy] had ever seen” in that she was “roundly gravid”. The only description of another fat person, whose “wobbly chins” moved, led Eddy to conclude that the people of Ommun were “well-fed here, at least.” This seemed to me to be a neutral description, as in this post-plague world a couple of generations after supermarkets, food was not always easy to come by, and fatness was an indicator of a society with plenty to eat.

When the village of Nowhere is destroyed, and the women Etta love are taken by the Lion, can they rescue them? And then where can they go? I will not wait so long to read the final installment, The Book of Flora, because I’m very curious to see how Elison ties everything up.

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