Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Handmaid’s Tale
By Margaret Atwood

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone…”
Gone is the key word. Gone.
I really did not want to read this book, not my normal genre. Published back in 1986 and now a HUGELY successful TV series on HULU, it is once again zipping up the NYT bestsellers list. So, I figured, I better read it. It took 2 days. Written in first person and full of dark and foreboding and downright scary dystopian scenarios, it is not something you want to peruse before sliding off to sleep.
The story takes place now or in the very near future. Due to many factors; pollution, radiation, pesticides and so on, the birth rate has bottomed out. Women are mostly sterile as are many men. In swoops this new literal-minded theocratic dictatorship. The Constitution and Congress are no longer—the Republic of Gilead is created on a platform of the Seventeenth-century Puritan roots that have forever been underneath the modern-day America we thought we knew and loved.
A new society is shaped and formed and for most, if not all, the word freedom is simply gone. And guess who is running things now? The elites of this new regime. It is they who arrange to have fertile women “assigned” to their households so that they, in turn, can have children. These, of course, are the Handmaids. Now if that isn’t creepy enough, stick with me.
So, a Handmaid (a woman who can bear children and most likely has already and they were taken from her and given to, the rich!) is assigned to a prominent couple. The wife is sterile, the husband could be, but since men run things, he plants the proverbial seed with the wife there in the room holding the Handmaid! I know. And if the wife suspects her husband is indeed sterile, well, there’s always the gardener or the driver or…there is always someone. So, the household becomes more powerful, the ‘Commander’ as the head/man of the house is called, rises up in rank the more children he can ‘gather.’
The tale is narrated by a Handmaid who goes by the name ‘Offred.’ It is entirely told in first person, through her eyes and via her voice only. This is a spare and dark and tense story of survival. By using backstory (tons and tons) the reader is given a glimpse into how things were before it all fell so terribly apart. When women held jobs, had bank accounts and wore all sorts of different clothing and read books or paged through a magazine. All this and so much more is gone. Gone.
If it weren’t for author Atwood’s incredible command of the language, I think I might have tossed this book across the room. Stomped on it even. There was not one ounce of humor either. Gone. Here she describes the promise of a fashion magazine:
“Though I remembered now. What was in them was promise. They dealt in transformations; they suggested an endless series of possibilities, extending like the reflections in two mirrors set facing one another, stretching on, replica after replica, to the vanishing point. They suggested one adventure after another, one wardrobe after another, one improvement after another, one man after another. They suggested rejuvenation, pain overcome and transcended, endless love. The real promise was immortality.”
In the end, this new world turns inside out and reshapes into something else. It too is; Gone.
• Book Clubs Beware!
• Remember, it’s fiction
• Or is it…

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