Finalist, 2017 International Book Awards
At the onset of puberty girls’ right legs are sawed off in Ramprend’s Beautification Ritual. In this dystopian novel, female stumps are desirable to men. Solanj’l — ’l denoting one-leg — hates her inability to move freely and makes a wooden leg to enable her to walk, or step-drag, rather than be rolled in a chair or swing along on props. It’s an extraordinary thing to do because no artificial limbs exist in Ramprend. Her husband sees commercial possibilities in his wife’s invention and begins producing Glom’s Glamor Legs. The ability to move more or less on two legs, no matter how uncomfortably, opens new ways of thinking for the women. Solanj’l and Deba’l, wife of Hunak, Minister Second Only to the First, therefore start gatherings of women, ostensibly to discuss Pleasure Ways with the wooden legs for the purpose of increasing husband happiness. Nevertheless, husbands are not always paramount in their thoughts. When items start disappearing in Ramprend and it is learned that women who live in the mountains outside the city have two legs and operate independently, Solanj’l and some of her friends are determined to put an end to the “Beautification,” no matter the cost.
“Energetic prose, vivid description, a page-turner plot, this debut novel grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go until the heart-thumping climax. In the Land of Two-Legged Women brings a fully realized dystopian society to life through the considerable imaginative forces of author Huey Helene Alcaro. In Ramprend, at the onset of puberty, girls must submit to the horribly disfiguring Beautification Ritual to satisfy the pleasure of their future husbands. Led by the fiery and beautiful Solanj’l, the women of Ramprend revolt to reclaim their bodies and their lives. From the first Gatherings of the women, ostensibly to discuss ways they can further pleasure their husbands, to the final faceoff in which the men threaten to storm the Great Hall in which the women have barricaded themselves, this battle of social change bellows a triumph of the human spirit. Both in love and war the stakes are high and not everyone can win. Creating a new society means accepting what must be relinquished as well as what is gained.”
—Cecelia Frey, author of Moments of Joy and The Long White Sickness
“Huey Helene Alcaro’s novel, In the Land of Two-Legged Women, is tough, shocking and necessary, an allegory reminiscent of fellow SFnal feminists Joanna Russ, Monique Wittig, and Ursula K. LeGuin. Alcaro keeps us turning pages, AND thinking!”
—Ursula Pflug, author of The Alphabet Stones and Motion Sickness
“I cannot imagine a Women’s Studies classroom without this dystopian novel. Like Margaret Atwood and Charlotte Perkins GIlman, Alcaro exposes the misogyny and concomitant rage beneath the veneer of tradition. This slim allegory dares us to look away from the full-frontal horror of what history has wrought for women. I could not stop reading, cannot stop thinking about the gauntlet this bold gem of a text has thrown down. Brave, compelling, and long overdue. “
—Donna Decker, author of Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You
They were going to cut off her leg. They were going to cut off her leg. They were going to cut off her leg. She ran screaming through the house.
She woke screaming. Glom was running his hands on her. NO. She propelled herself from the bed and crashed to the floor, hitting her forehead on the wall. The next day she’d have a lump that would darken to an ugly purple and fade through green into yellow as it receded. Glom was reaching for her. She moved back using her hands and one leg. Scrambled toward the corner, like a scurrying insect.
Chapter Two: Beautification
Sometimes she’d let herself fall into remembering. Sometimes she couldn’t stop it, remembering the days before her leg was sawed off and the ’l was added to her name, denoting woman, one in possession of one leg. She remembered running, running across her grandfather’s field, the grass soft under, around her feet, Spirry running with her, his body wiggling even as he ran, little legs pumping. She’d stop and pick him up, hold his silky almost black fur to her face. He’d keep wiggling. A joyous companion in running, running, running across fields, down streets, around and around the patios surrounding the house. Her running, jumping, tearing along friend. Oh, how she loved him.
What would he do, feel when she could no longer run with him? She sometimes wished her father had not given him to her. Then there wouldn’t be the loss of him. And she would lose him in some measure because she would not be able to run with him. She couldn’t think about it; not on a day of perfect blue, green, white beauty. No, not on such a day. So many days to think about not running any more. So many days when there would be no running. Nor walking.
“Come on, Spirry, let’s run!” Solanj and her best little playmate would take off once again across the field, racing, racing, racing in pure delight of being alive. Joy.
Itching. Cramping. Itching. Hurting. In the thigh, the calf—and the desire to run her hand down her leg, just for the knowing of herself. There was one leg to touch, but she wanted to feel both. She needed to scratch the itch, rub the cramp, but there was nothing to rub, to scratch. Nothing. There was nothing. Her friend, Toka, who lost her leg to the saw several months before Solanj had gone mad with the pain in the leg that was no longer hers. When she was eight she’d fallen out of a tree, piercing her right leg on a broken limb as she dropped. It had bothered her in cold weather. Lying in the disposal pits it drove her wild. She twisted and turned and screamed that one of the cats from the mountains had come to the pits and was eating her leg. Its teeth were ripping into her thigh, her calf, her foot.
Some women lived with pain all their lives. A grimace would cross the face for no apparent reason. The lost leg had appeared once again. A ghost that cried out in itching and cramps.
Solanj had loathed the Beautification Ritual as far back as she could remember. All girls feared it and cried before and after the leg was sawed off but they went on, doing what was expected. Few tried to prevent it. Solanj did. She asked, begged her mother, Luranj’l, and father, Hect, to not have it done to her. At first they smiled and thought she was being a nervous little girl, then realized she was serious. They kept a servant with her at all times, even when she slept, knowing she might try to run away. Her woman’s blood came and the day was set for removal. She only pretended to take the drug that was to make her senseless for the three days prior to The Beautification. On that day she’d thrown it across her room and run screaming out of the house and down the street. It was a golden and blue day, so beautiful it hurt and they were going to saw off her leg. It took three servants to catch and carry her back to her waiting parents, the parents deeply embarrassed by her unseemly behavior. The drug was forced down her throat.
She said nothing after her leg was sawed off, flung into the bloodstained wooden bucket and carried to the wagon that would transport it to the pits. She continued to say nothing as the weeks went by. She held Spirry and stared at people, her mouth a straight, tight line, her eyes hard. Her mother tried to cajole, then threatened with various restrictions. Solanj’l looked at her in a way that said there was nothing anyone could do that was worse than what had been done.
Her father prided himself on his reserve and dignity but finally yelled, “What is wrong with you? All females do this. It is natural. It is what the god wants. It is what we all want. Why must you act as if something bad has been done to you? Without Beautification you would never have a man. I do not know what is wrong with you.”
Casanj’l, her older sister with flirty eyes and giggly little girl ways, told Solanj’l she was being dumb. Every girl knew this was needed to get a husband. Casanj’l lowered her lushly-lashed eyes, turned pink and moved her shoulders this way and that, signaling sweet, docile, malleable for every man who came into the house.
Solanj’l did not wiggle and twinkle for the men. She merely flicked glances at them with her rage-filled eyes. When no one would see, she cried. She put her head against Spirry’s soft little body, rocked back and forth and cried. Spirry licked her tears and whimpered.