Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood


So I'm doing this project where I reread books that I read in my youth. In my late teens/early twenties, I wanted to read all the dystopians. I don't know why, but I found it fascinating. Now, I find it too depressing. I guess as you get older, it becomes too easy to imagine the world crumbling inward like an overripe melon as humanity succumbs to either disaster or hubris or both.

In THE HANDMAID'S TALE, we learn about a grim future in which a pseudo-evangelical group of fundamentalists has wrested control of the country in a vicious coup, reducing women to wives, baby vessels, or prostitutes, and men hold all the power. Women are unable to own property or even read; they are essentially chattel, stricken even of their names. Offred belongs to a man named Fred (literally "of Fred"). Before the coup, she was an ordinary woman. A woman with a daughter, who had a bank account and a lover. Now her sole duty is to bear children for the Commander, since she is fertile and his wife, Serena Joy, is not.

The timeline in this book is very difficult to follow because it is non-linear. I have always loved non-linear timelines when they are done well but it forces you to pay attention. Here, we see Offred in the before times, as well as in her training/brainwashing facility when they were grooming her to be a handmaid, and then in the present where she is navigating her precarious position in the household where any misstep could mean death-- or worse.

Having watched the TV show (the first season, at least), I'm pretty impressed with how closely it follows the show. There was so much I forgot. The fact that they mutilated the girls in the facility who disobeyed because they only needed them for their wombs. The mob justice scene when the handmaids literally tear apart the man accused of rape. The scene when Offred goes to the contraband club and sees all the whores garbed in the risque clothing of old. It's SO intense. I read this in two days which is a long time for me considering how short this book was, but it was a lot to take in. Especially since it's easy to imagine a sort of future where something like this could happen, what with the rabid group of religious assholes in the U.S. who mask their bigotry in piousness. This feels like their utopia.

It's pretty fucking chilling when you think about it like that.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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