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Upright Women Wanted


Upright Women Wanted

The world as we know it ended a long time ago, but the aftermath of this apocalypse is as familiar as a shadow. In Sarah Gailey’s UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED, near-future America has devolved into a landscape similar to the Wild West, complete with blazing suns, an oppressive imbalance of resources, and a deeply corrupt government. Any whispers of resistance are swiftly executed, and only state-sanctioned information is allowed to disseminate.

This is the world in which we meet Esther Augustus. Her best friend and lover was just hung by the government for spreading unapproved materials, in a state-sanctioned killing that Esther’s father, the Superintendent of what’s now known as the Lower Southwest Territory, views as justified. He saw Beatriz as a deviant, and now he plans to marry Esther off to the man Beatriz was supposed to wed, a man for whom neither woman has any love.

"UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED weaves the conceits of a Western romp with the fabric of an anti-fascist call to arms, all wrapped in a love letter to queer resistance and community."

So Esther flees, without looking back. She hides out in the wagon of three Librarians, which is nearly as much of a risk as staying where she was. The Librarians are known as nearly nun-like, chaste ladies, akin to “Handmaid’s Tale”-era Aunt Lydias, who travel the country distributing “appropriate” reading materials to fight “deviancy” and further the patriarchy and the fascist state.

But when Esther is discovered, instead of a one-way ticket to the gallows, the Librarians give her an entry point into a world she never knew existed --- a world, she learns, that Beatriz was beginning to discover. Esther finds out that there’s not only more to Bet, Leda and Cye than she expected, but also more possible narratives for her own life than she was ever allowed to imagine.

Esther embarks on a fast-paced, horseback adventure through the sunbaked landscape, helping the Librarians traffic surprising assets and evade the enforcers of a corrupt system of law. Along the way, she learns the secret softness between Leda and Bet, and finds herself drawn to the tough, charismatic Cye. Cye is nonbinary, like Gailey. Cye uses “they” pronouns where it’s safe to do so, but they go by “she” pronouns where it’s not --- and Leda and Bet share the kind of love that Esther knows Beatriz was in part executed for.

Esther had never seen anyone get to live like this, and survive. To live like this, and fight. As Gailey says, there are truths that feel better than safety.

There’s queer tragedy here, but it’s never exploitative. The deliberate misunderstanding of “deviancy” as a capital offense, whether in sexuality, gender or political thought, is not fiction, and though the novel begins with the unjust, state-sanctioned murder of a queer woman and alludes to many more, Gailey lets that injustice read as injustice. They center this narrative on Esther choosing to resist. They give queer women and nonbinary folks agency, letting them be the heroes of their own stories. They reckon with the complexities of “fighting back,” of violence as resistance, of the weight of killing, even in self-defense. They demonstrate the patriarchy inherent in the tropes of the genre, and they write resistance into it. The short, sharp plot moves swiftly, and Gailey’s biting voice shines in this setting, brimming with wit and alive with joy.

UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED weaves the conceits of a Western romp with the fabric of an anti-fascist call to arms, all wrapped in a love letter to queer resistance and community. A love letter to the power of representation, of getting to read about a love and a life like the kind you’ve only dreamt about, and choosing to fight for a world in which you can live without fear.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on February 14, 2020

Upright Women Wanted
by Sarah Gailey

  • Publication Date: February 4, 2020
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher:
  • ISBN-10: 1250213584
  • ISBN-13: 9781250213587