A New Beginning: The Impact of “The Change” on Dystopian Literature

Menopause has always been ubiquitous yet stigmatized and often ignored entirely from everyday discussion, perhaps because we unmistakably tied it to ageing. Self-help books about recognizing the symptoms or how to deal with the implications are all around; there are even coloring books to help keep women calm while going through hot flashes. Medical experts write most, delivering facts and debunking the myths surrounding the biological process. Fiction books revolving around the same topic are pretty rare, but they are slowly gaining more ground in the literary world in recent years. One of the fresh examples is the 2022 novel “The Change” by Kirsten Miller.

The Change
The Change is a contemporary tale of feminist revenge sprinkled with a truckload of fantasy, featuring three middle-aged women who develop magical powers just as soon as menopause hits them. They turn the rage and irritability issues often associated with menopause into superb abilities to help women seek justice for the dead. Menopause might be seen as a taboo subject for various reasons, but Kirsten Miller transforms it into the major driving force of the story. The Change also talks about some other inevitabilities in life such as loss, grief, and friendship and even touches on dystopian subjects like corruption, inequality, and human exploitation.

The three protagonists in The Change are:

  • Harriet Osborne: a former advertising agency stuck in a bland marriage. Harriet quit a misogynistic work environment just after her husband had left her for a younger woman. With a passion for gardening and plants, Harriet develops a botanical superpower not unlike a good version of Poison Ivy from Batman stories.
  • Jo Levison: like Harriet who quit a career in the advertising industry, Jo had gone through too many unpleasant experiences in the hotel business. Although Jo had introduced policies to reduce the extent of sexual harassment by hotel employees, she left the job anyway. Unlike Harriet, however, Jo is still married and has an 11-year-old daughter. Jo opened “Furious Fitness” gym afterwards, and the business is now thriving. Her menopause brings about hot flashes strong enough to burn people and melt objects.
  • Nessa James: a widow and retired nurse with two daughters, Nessa has a supernatural ability to communicate with the dead and locate their graves.
All three women live in the oceanfront village of Mattauk in Long Island. Things are supposed to be peaceful in the small community, but apparently there have been evils lurking in the shadows all along. The journey of the formidable trio begins when they take a stroll on a secluded beach and discover a body of a young woman, apparently a murder victim, decomposing inside a garbage bag. According to Nessa, who can talk with the dead, there are other ghosts of women seeking justice in the area.

The police enter the scene, but only to deliver barely effective response to the report. It becomes clear to the trio that the cops are keeping secrets from the public and seemingly defensive. Harriet, Jo, and Nessa decide to take matters into their own hands and investigate the case further. Considering the cops’ indifference, the trio might look for individuals with friends in high places. Desperate measures might be necessary; when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

As the search continues, other dead girls are seeking Nessa for help. The trio receive death threats over the investigative effort. Perseverance takes the trio to the gated community of Cutler Point, a place where the powerful and the wealthy reside part-time. Word on the street is that some men are targeting young women for sinister purposes and kill the women when they’re done. The middle-aged trio believe Cutler Point is the center of all the murders and sadistic fates that have befallen the missing girls. Harriet, Jo, and Nessa are determined to do everything they can to save and avenge the victims, but things might just be tricker than expected.

A Bit of a Problem

Special abilities from the menopause make for interesting fantastical elements to the story. That said, Nessa’s supernatural adeptness to communicate with the dead appears to be the only power consistently put to use and actually relevant to the plotline. Harriet can easily accomplish everything she does using nothing but her extensive library of botanical literature, added with her laid-back personality. The same thing applies to Jo, who already is well-trained in self-defense even without her fire ability. Nessa is the only person whose supernatural power is required for plot progression. One might say the story would be exactly the same without Harriet and Jo having special abilities of any sort. The only problem is that Nessa is the only Black woman in the trio, which makes the group falls into an exhaustively explored Magical Negro trope.

We think The Change packs a good combination between the MeToo movement, fantasy, humor, and major social issues in one go. It is a thriller about sex and human trafficking where sadistic powerful men prey on vulnerable women, and there is a little of dystopian nature in such a tale. It is a good thing Kirsten Miller refrains from being too serious about the big issues and instead turns the story into a brisk-paced satiric humor adventure.

What did you think of The Change? Do you find fiction novel about menopause interesting? Which of the trio you relate the most? We’d love to hear from you.

Other things you might want to know:

Fiction books about or related to menopause:

  • Broken Light (2023) by Joanne Harris
  • Amazing Grace Adams (2023) by Fran Littlewood
  • Woman of a Certain Rage (2021) by Georgie Hall 
  • How Hard Can It Be? (2018) by Allison Pearson
  • Murder in a Hot Flash (2015) by Marlys Millhiser
  • The Hot Flash Club (2004) by Nancy Thayer 

Other books by Kirsten Miller:

Kiki Strike series

  • Inside the Shadow City (2006)
  • The Empress’s Tomb (2007)
  • The Darkness Dwellers (2013)

The Eternal Ones series

  • The Eternal Ones (2010)
  • All You Desire (2011)

Nightmares! series (with Jason Segel)

  • Nightmares! (2014)
  • Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic (2015)
  • Nightmares! The Lost Lullaby (2016)

Last Reality series by Miller and Jason Segel

  • Otherworld (2017)
  • OtherEarth (2018)
  • OtherLife (2019)

What exactly is menopause?

Menopause is the point that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, naturally. A woman arrives at a menopause stage in life when she no longer undergoes menstruation. She cannot get pregnant unless with fertility treatments. Menopausal transition affects women differently, but it leads to various physical changes, for example, woman may gain weight more easily and changes in bone density. Most women experience menopause after the age of 45 years as part of natural aging.

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