Tackling Toxic Masculinity in The Survivors


The Survivors

By Jane Harper

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Mystery

QUILTBAG Main Character: No

QUILTBAG Minor Character: No

Main Character of Color: No

Bechdel Test: Yes

Summary: Kieran’s relationship with the small, seaside town is complicated to say the least. After the storm, things there are all dark memories and a guilt he cannot escape. His father’s declining health brings him, his partner, and their small daughter back home. But when the body is found on the beach, it becomes clear that the past is not washed out to sea, but instead lurking just below the surf. Kieran begins to question what he really knows about the townsfolk that he knew as a youth and what really happened the day of the storm. The truth will change his past and shape his future. 

Let’s Get A Little Deep:

If you are my friend, family member, or coworker, you already know I am fully obsessed with Jane Harper. I’ve read all four of her books, usually within a week of them coming out, because, well, they are incredible. Harper writes complex characters and intricate plots that weave in the forces of nature and the ways in which people can become killers. All of her books are deeply thematic, atmospheric stories that use the place and people to perfectly construct the plot. The Survivors is no exception. What makes this book is not just its watertight plot but the underlining themes that exist within. 

Kieran’s teen years were spent at parties, hanging with his friends while each of them tried for whatever girl at the party was prettiest. It was a girl and competition among male friends that had him in the caves the day of the storm. It is that lifestyle that he has run from these many years. But while Kieran thought it was all fun and games as a teen, as an adult, he begins to see the cracks in the base of that story. From watching other young men interact with uninterested women to caring and loving for his own partner and small daughter, Kieran begins to question if any of that time was all that fun.

This questioning of his past actions is to help clue the readers into the major theme of this book: toxic masculinity is a deadly condition. It is, without spoiling it, toxic masculinity that heaps tragedy upon tragedy to the small coastal town. It is this need to prove oneself a “real man” that causes not just death but real honest pain for more or less everyone in the town. We see it in the fight over a garden. We see it in the blame game that the town plays. We see it in every interaction between two men or any man and an available woman. 

As Kieran unlearns these behaviors, it starts to become clear that the past is not necessarily what he’s made of it. It is this understanding that eventually teaches him the truth of not only the murder of the young woman in the present but also what occurred on the day of the storm. Harper warns of the perils of toxic masculinity and the beauty that comes after a storm.

The Survivors has, without spoilers, an ending that is perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I’ve been thinking about it every day since I read it. We are all incredibly blessed to have Jane Harper’s books in the world, and I highly recommend you pick up your copy of The Survivors today.

Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Survivors? Leave a comment telling me if you’d dive to look at a sunken shipwreck. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.

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