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The Disappearance by Philip Wylie
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The Disappearance (original 1951; edition 1952)

by Philip Wylie

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173468,650 (3.95)24
Member:TadAD
Title:The Disappearance
Authors:Philip Wylie
Info:Pocket Books (1952), Edition: First Ed, Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Science Fiction, Feminist

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The Disappearance by Philip Wylie (1951)

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It’s an unremarkable afternoon in the early 1950s. Bill Gaunt is in his office composing a lecture for a seminar on philosophy, and glancing out the window at his wife. Paula Gaunt is in the yard gardening, and glancing in the window at her husband. Suddenly, poof, the world of men and women becomes two worlds, one of men and boys, one of women and girls. (This split includes primates but not other animals.) What happens in a world without the counterbalance and contributions of the opposite sex? Well, it is the 1950s, and it shows. The men turn violent and lustful with no outlet except the “Girl-Boys” or manufactured dolls, or theorize and pontificate at excruciating length. A glimpse of Bill engaging with enthusiasm and warmth in the family Christmas is not developed, his adult son is gone and not seriously sought. The women are immediately faced with malfunctions and catastrophes without skills to tend the physical and economic machinery. “What is obvious,” says the wife of a banker, “is that just marrying a man doesn’t teach you his business. I‘m sure I’d be utterly helpless in a bank. I wouldn’t know how to deduct a cashed check from the assets, or how to add on a deposit.” “Do we have anybody,” asks the wife of a politician, “who understands just how to use atomic bombs? I mean to say, I feel they have to be fiddled with, to shoot them off. They’re terribly on the gadgety side.” The wives of politicians have been concerned with appearance and social status, and become mired in discussions of chic and practical (yet not too mannish) uniforms for members of congress. But by “employment of their instincts” and “however indirectly and by whatever irresponsible means”, they hit upon the idea of recruiting Paula, who earned a degree in linguistics before she married “a brighter man with an even better education and {her} light went right out”, to negotiate with the Russians (who are, it is the 1950s, a prominent feature of both worlds). Paula rises to the occasion, and with her education and intelligence and pragmatism becomes “a ‘man’ amongst these beleaguered women”, head of a household that includes her daughter and granddaughter and several other women and girls. She admits to enjoying management. It is a dangerous and disturbing sensation in a world where ladies’ magazines feature articles about “crushes”, and a younger woman expresses interest. “Her mind teetered between two emotions – one of yearning for the men to return and the other, an abnormal desire which, she believed, rose from the long assumption of men’s duties.” Neither Bill nor Paula actually succumbs to these temptations. Instead, much is made of the double standard of marital infidelity, as Bill discovers via letters in a box, which Paula manipulatingly kept for precisely this purpose, that he is not the only one with bimbos on the side, and considers that perhaps men and women should be permitted equal freedom in this area, this being the most important area in which he wishes for freedom.

It’s not entirely clear how much is the author’s illustration of flaws in a society with artificially distinct and unequal rights and responsibilities, and how much is the author’s assumptions of inherent differences and limited vision of the possibilities. A mixture of both, it seems, and it’s maybe interesting to read with this question in mind, wondering also how separate worlds might be imagined today. He tells a good story regardless.

(read 13 Nov 2012)
3 vote qebo | Nov 22, 2012 |
If you're looking for an unambiguous thumbs up or thumbs down on this book, you're not going to get it here. The premise of this book is that, one day, all the men disappear from the women's world, and all the women disappear from the men's. What happens to the single-gender societies?

Looking at this simply from a story point of view, there are two very distinct parts. There are the portions where the story is actually going on and the plot is happening. These keep you entertained and interested, no question. Then there are the portions where Wylie, through the thoughts/words of one character or another, speechifies. These are tedious. You could skim through these a bit to keep the story moving swiftly. Unfortunately, you'd then miss important points of this allegorical tale about the different realities experienced by men and women, and what Wylie thinks we ought to do about them. You need to read them.

Looking at the characters, there are some colorful and vivid ones. I found them a bit internally inconsistent but they do keep you engaged.

Looking at this as a picture of 1951, well, it's great! The social mores, the racial and sexual prejudices, the Cold War attitudes: all leap from pages for your inspection. You can marvel at how far we've come since then, or you can despair how much some things are the same but, either way, the picture is vivid and bright.

But, what this book is really about is asking questions about the complementary nature of man/woman, about double standards, about monogamy, about the "natural" nature of a man or a woman. Looking at it from this point of view, you find a book that is ambitiously willing to question convention and normality but that, ultimately, loses heart in hanging onto the answer.

Wylie boldly says, "This is where we should go." But...few of his characters really go there. The enlightened, principled male lead isn't so enlightened or principled when you put him under a microscope. The strong, independent female lead doesn't really come across as strong and independent to my ears. My two favorite characters, Teddy and Bella, come somewhat close but, unfortunately, they are minor bit parts.

It's a book that asks some really good questions. It's also a book that, due to its era, doesn't realize that some questions exist (Minorities and LGBT issues). It's a book that doesn't quite have the courage...or maybe it was vision...to put a stake in the ground with its answers and say, "Ban this book if it offends you that much, but this is what I think!" But, maybe that's okay, since the book will cause you to think about your answers yourself. ( )
2 vote TadAD | Nov 11, 2012 |
What you've got in [The Disappearance] is a book that asks all the right questions (what if all the men disappeared, how would women cope, and vice versa, how would the men cope). BUT the journey to Wylie's conclusions is often so maddening that it is a tribute to his sheer ability to spin a good yarn that I stuck with it. He's got the gift, which I remember had me riveted into the wee hours of the night in my early teens when I encountered [When Worlds Collide]. The story cuts back and forth between Bill and Paula Gaunt, he a philosopher, she his wife, a housewife (albeit v. well educated) in their fifties, long married and not unhappily. There is a third element which are long and tedious chapters where Bill is working out his ideas about why the disappearance has been inflicted (mostly flailing around) and what can be done about it (nothing much except try to stay alive.). Wylie seems to offer that men would either theorize pointlessly and futilely or get murderous, bored, and crazed with sexual need. Women would alternate between obsessing with trivialities and just getting on with the next thing to be done, perhaps failing to look far enough ahead (lacking imagination, as Wylie thinks we do.) Paula occasionally has a pensive moment, but she's mostly too busy. The racism and sexism -- all based on the assumptions that Wylie possessed, and he was probably reasonably enlightened for the times -- get in the way of the one important aspect of the book - that it is a brilliant 'what if' and that nearly all the questions Wylie raises are valid ones. Why be faithful? Why are cultures so prone to becoming rigid? Why does Christianity take such a cruel attitude toward women (I mean the snake, the apple, it's a mess from the get-go)? Even the horrible racism that sticks out now, serves as a reminder and an incentive to think and learn and grow. I found, actually, that sixty years on, the fact that the most racist parts of the book are so utterly out of the realm of the possible now that it was a bit uplifting to feel that some progress has been made. Same with the fact that women have also, for the most part moved on. And that so many men are dedicated to their families in a different way than of yore, totally hands-on, that is. Nonetheless the questions are, in a way, timeless ones that need to always be in our minds. The conclusions Wylie comes to are to my mind, pathetically limited his own temporal and intellectual limitations. Hocus pocus, really, but we are free to answer the questions he raises differently. He gets my respect for having the courage and the vision, to ask, to attempt a book of this kind. I see much of the dystopic literature which abounds today owing a great deal to Wylie. ****1/2 ( )
2 vote sibyx | Nov 11, 2012 |
This was recommended to me by the head librarian back when I worked at St. Marys Public Library and it is still one of my favourite books. It took me a while to track down a copy of it, but now, I always bring it up as a suggestion when people are looking for something to read. Even though it is fairly old, I think it gives a good picture of what life would be like if there really was a disappearance. It does run a bit long, though ( )
1 vote janeycanuck | Apr 9, 2006 |
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A gentleman of eminence is introduced and a curious event takes place by which he, and others, are baffled
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803298412, Paperback)

“The female of the species vanished on the afternoon of the second Tuesday of February at four minutes and fifty-two seconds past four o'clock, Eastern Standard Time. The event occurred universally at the same instant, without regard to time belts, and was followed by such phenomena as might be expected after happenings of that nature.”
 
On a lazy, quiet afternoon, in the blink of an eye, our world shatters into two parallel universes as men vanish from women and women from men. After families and loved ones separate from one another, life continues in very different ways for men and women, boys and girls. An explosion of violence sweeps one world that still operates technologically; social stability and peace in the other are offset by famine and a widespread breakdown in machinery and science. And as we learn from the fascinating parallel stories of a brilliant couple, Bill and Paula Gaunt, the foundations of relationships, love, and sex are scrutinized, tested, and sometimes redefined in both worlds. The radically divergent trajectories of the gendered histories reveal stark truths about the rigidly defined expectations placed on men and women and their sexual relationships and make clear how much society depends on interconnection between the sexes.
 
Written over a half century ago yet brimming with insight and unsettling in its relevance today, The Disappearance is a masterpiece of modern speculative fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:33 -0400)

"On a lazy, quiet afternoon, in the blink of an eye, our world shatters into two parallel universes as men vanish from women and women from men. After families and loved ones separate from one another, life continues in very different ways for men and women, boys and girls. An explosion of violence sweeps one world that still operates technologically; social stability and peace in the other are offset by famine and a widespread breakdown in machinery and science. And as we learn from the fascinating parallel stories of a brilliant couple, Bill and Paula Gaunt, the foundations of relationships, love, and sex are scrutinized, tested, and sometimes redefined in both worlds. The radically divergent trajectories of the gendered histories reveal stark truths about the rigidly defined expectations placed on men and women and their sexual relationships and make clear how much society depends on interconnection between the sexes."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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