Living Dolls and Other Women
S. Montana Katz
Guernica World Editions (2021)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (08/2021)
S. Montana Katz’ “Living Dolls and Other Woman” is a wondrously unique novel whose characters and plot events emphasize the bias, harassment, and discrimination faced by woman of all ages, in all stages and circles of life, throughout human history.
The book cycles through a myriad of different feminine perspectives. We have Maria, who struggles to juggle her passion for her career with being present in her children’s lives and a marriage that is straining at the seams because of her long hours spent working and not at home. Then, there is Jackie, a young nanny who balances taking care of Maria’s two young children so that she can make ends meet while finishing her degree. There is Roberta, Maria’s best friend, who seems to Maria to be living the luxurious, happy life she’d been trying so hard to find but never seemed to achieve. Kim is a college student who has caught the eye of both Maria’s husband and an overly aggressive friend, Jeff. Finally, there are the Living Dolls, a small group of women who don special costumes to crash events such as art shows, in order to call attention to the sexism of the art world and the fact that hardly any female artists are ever chosen to be showcased at a prestigious gallery in the neighborhood. Altogether, we have a cast of characters living in a world that is designed to make them run faster and harder than their male counterparts, and at greater risk of harm, all because they have two X chromosomes.
Katz’ book hits right at home in our current cultural climate. Despite the “progress” the world has made, it still seems like so many women are losing out on chances simply because they are female. If we don’t capitulate to how a patriarchal American society views the “fairer” sex, or try to step out of the box society has put us in to soar higher in our lives, then we can be put in danger. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that women really started to venture out into the workforce. Fifty years later, we are still battling too large a portion of society who believe women should still put homemaking, child rearing, and being a wife in front of their career ambitions and their own personal desires. “Living Dolls and Other Women” thus fits into a growing feminist movement that seeks to say: We are here. We are equal. We are human. Not dolls for men to manipulate.
“Living Dolls and Other Women” does not sugarcoat anything. While some of the dialogue from male characters to female characters is shocking, and some of the images unnerving, it is all frighteningly realistic. Kim’s encounter with her friend Jeff, for example, after she rejects his sexual advances, is one that too many high school and college girls probably experience today. Jeff’s casual threat that he could rape her if he wanted to is a stark reminder that even those close to us can betray us and do us wrong. Likewise, Jackie’s and Maria’s experiences of being catcalled and harassed on the street and in the subway by strange men is a feeling that too many women know. Personally, I have experienced it walking two blocks from a parking garage to the building where the law office I work is located. I eventually switched garages, even though the one I currently use is almost $35 more expensive than the other one, because when I really thought about it, I was tired of always wondering what potential threat I might have to ward off just walking to and from my car. It’s really a chilling, discouraging feeling, and that’s the feeling I got when reading some of Katz’ scenes.
While sometimes the formatting was a little hard to swim through, the theme of the book made me want to keep reading. It was hard sometimes to discern when we were switching points of view between characters, since there aren’t really page breaks or white space. I think there also could have been some format editing for some of the dialogue, but altogether, these things weren’t enough to detract from the point of the book.
I recommend “Living Dolls and Other Women” to anyone, of any gender, who wants to learn more about feminism; who wishes to better understand some of the trials women go through during their daily routines. Anyone who is wondering if maybe there is something more they can do to make the world a little less scary, and a little more welcoming to women. This book is for those who want to be inspired to help make a difference in the world, even if it just means becoming a little more aware of what goes on in the lives of those around them.