July seems to be the month of choice for reading books that I only previously read excerpted cover-to-cover.Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1986.Summary
: The woman known only as Offred has one purpose as a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead--to give a man a child where his wife cannot. Yet this perfectly oppressive society has cracks around the edges...enough, perhaps, for escape.Comments
: Ultimate nightmare scenarios that never actually happen are a popular grist mill for great literature--call this one 1984
for womenkind. Unfortunately, the conceit involving the genesis of the society is its weakest point: Men were BORED? Not threatened? Oh give me a break. Ideological warfare (terrorists! drugs! poverty!) is so much more expedient for that sort of thing than oppressing all women. Anyway, I guess it goes to show you that Atwood does, after all, represent an extension of sorts to New England gothic; her story takes place entirely in (what used to be) New England, and, in addition to the rather unpleasant plotline, embodies the aesthetic of the region. A born or at least bred citizen of the United States would be less likely, in my humble opinion, to locate such a theocracy in they liberal Northeast. *shrugs* Or maybe that's just for maximal impact? Really, The Handmaid's Tale
is quite similar to Atwood's second novel Surfacing
--both feature a tormented protagonist who has an affair with a married man and finds her reproductive rights abridged in some way. She seems equally horrified by militant pro-lifers and by the "messy" realities of abortion, which is a rather happy, unrealistic position when you think about it. Not all babies are wanted or for that matter sustainable; you'd think with all of Atwood's fever dreams of dystopia that she would know better. Oddly, the academic lecture at the end adds levity to the story that mitigates the horror of what has been heretofore described in a way I'm not certain is fully intended--it reveals the society as a temporary aberration of sorts, and indirectly answers the question left standing in the narrative itself. Even if Offred did not totally escape Gilead, subsequent generations did. There's that happy happy stuff again. In the most unlikely of tales.Notes
: hardcover, 1st American edition, 3rd printingRating
- An important footnote in the backlash against Second Wave feminism. Unfortunately, it describes better than it instructs.