The story opens with Hazel Hayes, a pregnant Canadian graduate student, discussing her current state of affairs with her unborn child. What quickly unfolds through her first person narration is that Hazel, while on academic leave in New York City, had an illicit affair with her married college advisor, and there is a pandemic quickly sweeping through America that affects women who are not just blondes, but who have dyed their hair blonde. Siphonaptera Human Virus (SHV or “Blonde fury”, “California Rabies”, “Gold Fever”, “insert blonde viral pun here”) pretty much causes any woman with blonde hair to go completely crazy and violently attack other human beings in a zombie-like state. Hazel, in her unfortunate turn of events, not only has to deal with suddenly finding out she is pregnant, but also how to escape from New York (love that movie, pun intended) back to Canada. To complicate matters further, because she is a natural redhead, she has a 50/50 chance of coming down with the deadly hair virus.
The Blondes is campy and fun. You just have to suspend your disbelief of the completely insane premise that there could be a deadly virus that not only affects women of a certain hair color, but also affects those that change their natural color to the disease-activated color. Living in the “real” world, the prospect of there being a hair borne illness that affects women in this way is completely preposterous. But then again, isn’t any zombie apocalypse situation preposterous? (For those of you reading this who have emergency zombie infestation preparedness plans, I’m kidding. NOT!) The sociological exploration that Emily Schultz conducts in her novel lends itself to much introspection, and you gain the most insight from the hilarity of absurdly coincidental circumstances of sheer bad luck, if not the firm tongue in cheek tone. In the end, Hazel finds herself living in a remote cabin in Ontario, Canada with the wife of the academic advisor she had an affair with, reflecting on her past relationships with others (including her own mother), attachments, detachments, and the choices that have outlined her path through life.
Hazel’s journey mirrors the way women in society not only treat each other, but how they treat themselves, without being overly preachy. The vanity, the cattiness, and complete lack of respect or care we feel for each other as a gender is alluded here through the light satirical commentary on pop culture and socio-economic status.
At first, I found myself completely annoyed with Hazel as your “typical other woman,” only to get the real picture of her as just a woman in the end. It was then that I even began to question my own tightly held standards and ideals on how women should behave versus the way society has conditioned us to behave. Schultz’s story has a great way of sneaking up on you in that respect. You get to take something meaningful away from Hazel and her plight. But I have to say, I will think twice before picking up that next bottle of hair color.
By Emily Schultz
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s
Publication Date: April 21, 2015