Today we're sharing a guest post by Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess Male. This debut novel is a chilling dystopian tale of politics, inequality, marriage, love, and rebellion, set in a near-future China, that further explores the themes of the classics The Handmaid's Tale and When She Woke.
Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.
Now 40 million of them can't find wives.
China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritarian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.
Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.
In Maggie Shen King’s startling and beautiful debut, An Excess Male looks to explore the intersection of marriage, family, gender, and state in an all-too-plausible future.
From the Author:
Thank you for the opportunity to tell you a little about my upcoming novel, An Excess Male. It all began about five years ago when I opened up the morning paper and read about the gender imbalance in China brought on by its One-Child Policy and cultural bias for male heirs. By the year 2020, 25% of men in their late thirties—nearly 30 million people—will never have married. This headline had more zip than my morning coffee.
I learned that the natural sex ratio at birth is about 107 boys to 100 girls. The skew is nature’s ingenious way of making up for the higher mortality rate among males. During the 37 years in which the One Child Policy was law, the ratio got as high as 137 to 100 in rural provinces.
Even with phasing out of the law starting in 2015, this society will be testosterone-fueled, prone to aggression and crime, and plagued by an undercurrent of loneliness and dissatisfaction for decades to come. And to make matters even more intriguing, all of these unmarried men are the only children in their families, accustomed to the undivided attention of doting parents and grandparents.
The more I researched the topic, the more I became convinced that there was a book there. If you considered the demographic imbalance as a math problem, there were three solutions—import women, export men, or ask women to take on more than one husband. All three options made good potential stories. I thought the last one posed the most provocative and disturbing questions.
I wondered who would opt to share a wife? The most obvious answer was men without financial and educational resources. These days, most Chinese women do not consider a man marriage material unless he owned a home. With notoriously meddlesome Chinese parents in the picture, true love and romance have a hard time establishing a foothold if the economics are not advantageous. To delve deeper, if money were not the object, then what would prompt men to share a wife? And, just as important, why would a woman consent to such an arrangement?
Setting my novel in a near-future China, I began to explore these questions, using the current political realities as the backdrop. In my book, the government has already tried for a few decades to tackle this crisis by mandating that its families demonstrate patriotism by taking on additional husbands. I told the story from the point of view of every member of one marriage, giving each nearly equal weight. So even though the story is called An Excess Male (the “excess male” has one more chapter than everyone else), it is really the story of an entire family and this arrangement made out of urgent, individual necessities.
At first, I set out to write an updated and all-too-plausible twist on the age-old marriage plot, with a male protagonist at its center. About a fifth of the way into An Excess Male, I realized that I was writing within the speculative dystopian tradition; my subject matter and the story I was imagining had dictated an additional layer to the narrative. My novel became the story of one excess male, the less-than-perfect family he seeks to join, and the fight for their version of home, for the freedom to be their true selves, and for the country they have lost to a regime that aimed to control sex and define the boundaries of marriage in the name of the public good.
I hope this description of my novel has piqued your interest. Please enter here to win a copy of my book which will go on sale on September 12th.