I was on vacation at the beach for four days last weekend and brought only two books with me. A serious mistake! I was done with them by the morning of the third day. Luckily, Scott’s family are voracious readers as well, and the beach house (which they own) was stocked with books. While I could have read A Very Naughty Angel (no really, I did find such a book on the shelf!), I chose to go with something a little deeper. I had been meaning to read The Handmaid’s Tale anyway, so good job, me.
Let me just start with this: this book is disturbing. Seriously disturbing, in that way where the premise seems implausible but then you start to see how it could maybe be plausible and then you think it might be a good idea to rally against a cash-less society because it could lead to you becoming a handmaid. Yeah. Think 1984 or The Stepford Wives if you’ve read them. Disturbing.
All right. So this book is, as you may have guessed, about a handmaid. But in this (disturbing) dystopian world, a Handmaid doesn’t do, you know, maid things. See, the American birth rate has dropped below a replacement rate, partly because pollution is causing “shredder” (deformed) babies. So a Handmaid is brought in to a household when a Wife can’t provide her high-ranking husband with a child, because children are very important, unless they’re girls. Once a month, the Wife sits behind the Handmaid as Mr. Man-pants does his thing, and the Handmaid hopes beyond hope that Mr. Man-pants’s man-parts work and that she gets pregnant and that she never gets sent away to the Colonies as an Unwoman who gets to clean up toxic waste. Also, women aren’t allowed to read or own property, and Handmaids don’t even get to use their own names.
It takes a while for the story to get that far. Atwood sort of eases the reader into Offred’s (read: of fred’s) world, interspersing the dreary present with the past that looks suspiciously like America in the 1980s (when this book was written) and the interim in which Offred is taken away from her life and her husband and child. I wasn’t thrilled with the first few chapters, but since I knew better was coming I held on, and then the book got really good and really, you know, disturbing.
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)