In Praise of the Stepmother – Review

The Washington post describes Llosa’s “In Praise of the Stepmother” as a “playful exploration of polymorphous perversity” and its hard to build much beyond that. The novel does come off as a playful run by a skilled writer and it doesn’t hesitate to plumb the depths of perversion within a family as the stepson seduces the stepmother. Interspersed throughout the novel are occasional riffs on pieces of artwork de Szyszlo’s “Road to Menrieta” to Boucher’s “Diana at the Bath” with each riff focusing on the sexual aspects or possibly story line behind each tableau. 

“In Praise” could also be an attempt to turn the Oedipus story on its head. While the stepmother is clearly not the boy’s blood mother, his real father is still very much alive and is very much married to the woman. On top of this, the father and mother are not exactly lacking affection for one another. Instead of the boy being ruined by his discovering he has wooed and lusted his (step)mother, it is the woman and father who are destroyed while the child gains even more power over the kingdom of the home by the end of the story as the child attempts to then seduce the head servant woman who we know now fears the child’s motives. 

By showing a male gaining power through his sexuality, it seems it is a juxtaposition of norms. What we normally see are women gaining social power through their sex. Whether it be through the desire for marriage in a Jane Austen novel or the eventual self-empowerment created  by Hester Prynne’s illegitimate child and her Scarlet Branding or even Lady MacBeth’s relentless rule of her busband, the idea of the woman having power through her sex isn’t a new thing. For a man to wield his sexuality as a weapon is a genuinely new take. Whereas it is usually mere physical strength or wealth/power levied as man’s club, it is rarer that it is his cock.

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