The Red Word by Sarah Henstra
Sarah Henstra's The Red Word wants to be part of a mythos for women, and in this, it triumphs
“The myths don’t have a clue what to do with women. We need to build our own mythology.” With these words, spoken through the character of Dyann, Sarah Henstra cements the necessity of her latest novel.
The Red Word offers raw insight into the complexities of sexual politics, told from the perspective of Karen Huls, a sharp-minded student at an American university. Given her relationships with a fraternity and her radically feminist housemates, she finds herself intimately involved with two cultures holding very different views about women. Through Karen, we are introduced to characters who are fleshed-out, flawed, and full of vitality, but are not without the realism that grounds this riveting story to reality.
The narrative follows the familiar arc of a marginalised group that takes action against those in power, then deals with the consequences when things get out of hand. Though the outline itself isn’t new, the framing of the story in the style of a Greek myth makes this novel a significant work of literature. This connection is critical because, as one character suggests, the ancient Greeks popularised the ideas of masculinity and femininity that pervade contemporary Western culture and are the root of issues around gender. As Karen suggests, women as actors with agency were left out of the Greek myths that inform our reality. Knowing the power of these stories, Henstra creates an urgency about this lack of feminine mythology.
The Red Word is a dynamic story intelligently told. It wants to be part of a mythos for women, and in this, it triumphs.
Tramp Press, 21 Mar, £12.99