I can see why The Handmaid's Tale is a classic - it's brilliant. Let me tell you why.
It's a character study of one woman, Offred, who lives in a dystopian religious society. But it's more than just some woman who has had a rough life. This book has layers. It's got complexity. It's got just enough truth to get under your skin in the most terrifying way. It's got beautiful writing. It's got a character you can identify with and root for and at the same time can't understand at all.
And it is easily one of the scariest books I've ever read. It's creepy and terrifying. The scariest part? The complicity of everyone in the dystopian religious society.
As April and I were discussing on Twitter yesterday, most dystopians these days are all about the rebellion. Very "rebel with a cause". The protagonists incite riots and gather the troops and springboard things back into a world of freedom.
This book was much more "Rebel? I don't know about that. Seems risky. I mean, if there's nothing better to do I'll consider it." Terrifying, right?
For the most part everyone has just accepted their new fates. Offred has lots of thoughts about this new life of hers, though, and it is very fascinating. Offred remembers the time before. She remembers the freedom. She remembers being married and having a daughter, neither of whose fates she has any idea about. You see, this is not a story about someone way down the line who has just decided she wants more. This is a story about someone who HAD more and is now living in this nightmare of a situation.
The way this society has this religious extremism down to a science - down to details you'd never consider thinking about- is just creepy and suffocating. The way they have turned young women into breeding vessels. The way it's a patriarchy but they are utilizing the older women to control the younger women so that it can't even be a divisive gender issue. The way feelings have been categorically severed from their way of life. For everyone. The whole sexual expression situation. I mean...
But back to the complicity. I cannot fathom it. It is not me at all. As I was telling April, the regime would get rid of me right away. I would never last as long as Offred has because I'd be marching in the streets all "DOWN WITH THE OLIGARCHY!" I'd be organizing protests and shit. I'm too much trouble for them to even attempt to contain. Those of you who know me, can you really fathom me just being like "Yeah, okay, use me as a breeder! At least I'm still alive!"
Do not expect me to volunteer myself as tribute to your weird little society. Not happening. You're going to have to force me kicking and screaming into that palace of crazy.
Margaret Atwood has written a book that is utterly terrifying mostly because IT COULD EASILY HAPPEN TO US NEXT WEEK. That's what is bone-shivering scary about it. There are Senators in office right now who believe many of the same policies should be put in place as were laid out in this book. They talk about it regularly. As Offred says, "We lived (back then), as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it." How often do we dismiss decisions made about our lives every single day as insignificant or unimportant? Religion is one of those things that people believe in so strongly that it can easily be twisted by those in power in order to take away people's rights - including those of believers. And some people just sign right up for the cult.
And the way Atwood describes how this strange uber-religious society she lives in now came to be? I wanted to throw something, throw up, run, scream, hide under the blankets, rage against the machine. Basically this book made me this little girl:
Now that I've told you all this....you guys, you really should read it if you haven't. NOW.
"There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it."
"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. I didn't know what it meant, or even what language it was in. I thought it might be Latin, but I didn't know any Latin. Still, it was a message, and it was in writing, forbidden by that very fact, and it hadn't yet been discovered. Except by me, for whom it was intended. It was intended for whoever came next."
“What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise there are only two dimensions. Otherwise you live with your face squashed up against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, criscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.”