It’s been fun trying to describe the premise of this book to people.
The gist: there is a virus that affects blonde women (mostly) and causes them to become violent and kill people. It grows to epidemic proportions in Canada and the US, making people paranoid and take drastic measures to protect themselves and their families.
The more in depth description is that in The Blondes, Emily Schultz creates a world only a few months in the future. Hazel Hayes, a redhead, is in her late 20s and finishing her PhD in Aesthetology which is (I think) the study of the way we are attracted to beauty and how beauty affects relationships and connections. Hazel is a Canadian, staying in New York to work with a professor on her thesis. While there, she witnesses a violent and spontaneous attack perpetrated by a blonde woman.
This is the first in an “epidemic” of attacks. Soon, thousands of people have been violently killed, all by women who are blonde. Scientists soon start attributing the attacks to a rabies-like virus called SHR. It is a virus that is more easily carried and caught by people with little melanin in their skin and hair (blond and fair-haired people).
So, Hazel is stuck in New York with all the attacks, but she wants to get back to Canada and can’t get past the border. The issue is timely because before she left for New York, she had a brief affair with Karl, her thesis adviser. She needs to get back to Canada for an abortion.
Hazel is stopped at the border and forced into quarantine (in Hamilton, yeah for literary mentions!) because of her red hair which means she could be a carrier of the virus. Hazel has no money and no communication with the outside world. After two months she is let out, and travels to find Karl at his cottage in Wasaga beach. Unfortunately, Karl was killed by SHR and the only person at the cottage is Grace, Karl’s blonde and bitter wife.
Eventually, Grace helps Hazel because she feels bad for and for Karl’s future progeny.
There are so many reasons why I enjoyed this book. It was funny, and the premise was outrageous, but still strangely believable. The character of Hazel is memorable and endearing. She is over weight, considers herself frumpy and unattractive. She is also honest with the reader about her motivations for sleeping with Karl, and also for deciding to keep her baby in the end.
I thought The Blondes had interesting reflections on beauty and the sorts of things we do for beauty. Women are often motivated to act a certain way because they believe they aren’t beautiful. The need to look a certain way in order to be valuable and desirable is prominent in our society. Schultz brought it out in a relevant and poignant way. Women know that being valued for appearance is shallow, and false, but we still half-believe or half-buy into it.
Blonde people in the novel become murderers because of physical appearance. Life is easier for people who are considered conventionally attractive, and I think that’s what Schultz was bringing out in The Blondes. This is explored further through the character of Hazel who has, instead an atypical sort of beauty and doesn’t seem to care about appearance in a “normal” and feminine way. Even though she knows her value doesn’t entirely come from affirmation from others, she still has an affair with Karl because she admittedly wanted to be valued as beautiful.