The Blondes by Emily Schultz

Mesmerizing. Like Cormac McCarthy on estrogen. Emily Schultz tells a gripping, even haunting, tale in The Blondes, that is subtle, sophisticated, sensitive, quirkily observant, and horrific.

Hazel Hayes is a Ph.D. candidate in Communications Studies spending a term in New York City to pursue her research and, in effect, to avoid her thesis supervisor, Karl Mann, with whom she has inadvisably had an affair. Absence, from Karl and from her other friends in Toronto, does nothing to alleviate her mixed feelings or help her focus on her thesis. And the fact that she has just learned that she is pregnant doesn’t help matters. Her life, her whole world, is a mess. But that’s nothing compared to the mess that is about to ensue when a pandemic of rabies-like madness begins to strike blondes and those whose hair colour has been made blonde through dyeing. From an initial attack that Hazel witnesses in the New York subway to outbreaks at JFK and further afield (the Nordic countries are severely at risk), Hazel must negotiate her way through this field of mayhem in order to get back to Toronto.

That makes it sound like a horror story, but it’s really a meditation on representations of women in culture and advertising, a commentary on systemic sexism, a reflection on a woman’s control over her own body (exacerbated by Hazel’s uncertainty over whether she wants to carry her foetus to term), a searching examination of varieties of grief, and yes, of course, also a bit of a horror story. (Interestingly, “blond/blonde” is one of the few adjectives in written English to retain its masculine and feminine grammatical genders.)

The writing is measured, thoughtful, well paced, and crisp. It was a pleasure to read and think about and I would gladly read anything else Emily Schultz chooses to write. Recommended.

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