Friday, March 2, 2018

the handmaid's tale

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I feel about the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. My response to her work has been very middle of the road, which is difficult for me.

When I read a story, I usually like it or dislike it. So my ratings are usually based on how much I either liked or disliked the writing. This book somehow did not fall into this kind of rating system.

I gave the book three stars out of five. The book was never going to be a five star rating because for some reason I loathe dystopian novels of any kind. This means that even if this book was the first dystopian novel to blow my mind, it would STILL have received four stars.

The thing about this book is that it felt like it WAS a story that needed to be told. I’ve read a lot of these kinds of books where, although the story wasn’t for me, I feel like the story IS for a particular group. The Handmaid's Tale is a definitely a cautionary tale on the evils of toxic fundamentalist Christian misogyny. To be clear, this kind of speculative fiction is needed to understand the worst possible outcomes that bloom from ignorance.

That being said, the book is a double narrative which is difficult to follow. Not because it’s confusing perse, but a lot of attention is focused on the details that don’t matter.

I really don’t see how the bizarre attention to the preparation of eggs helped the story. A detail like this didn’t give me the ‘feels’ that I assume Atwood wanted me to feel. It honestly felt like a how-to from an old pioneering book. It felt like some sort of misguided attempt to subconsciously refer to female fertility. It felt like a way to try to show monotony in a failed poetic narrative. I wouldn’t have an issue with this, IF Atwood would have explained other things in the same attention to detail.

So let me list what I would have liked explained to me. These things would have taken this book from a rating of three (very dry) stars to four (very intrigued) stars.
  1. How did this Puritanist society evolve so quickly?
  2. What circumstances allowed the extremely improbable gunning down of the ruling government officials at the Presidents Day Massacre?
  3. The book suggests there was very little rioting? Why? Is this to infer that society had become so apathetic?
  4. What was the state of all nations? What was happening in let’s say in Japan? Was it just the United States that had become so twisted? We know that Japanese tourists came to take pictures, why would a staunch society let them visit in the first place?
  5. Why were birth rates suddenly so low? Was it radiation? Was it syphilis? Was the reason even scientifically identified in this backwards world?
  6. In a world where the birth of healthy babies are so important as to create a breeding class, why would men risk the lives of these babies with nearly archaic birthing practices?
  7. Why did the narrator seem to lack believable anguish for the loss of her daughter? Or the rest of her family? Where was the love, the affection, or the memories? Why was the longing for the men around her more important than this?
  8. Was the fragmented writing Atwood’s attempt at forcing you to see this world through a dissociative state? If so, where were the moments of clarity. The periods of feeling everything at once? Or was it just bad writing?
  9. Why did the timeline of three to five years not only change society but seemed to make everyone talk as if they forgot modern language?
  10. Why in the sam hell would you end the book with a situation that is never truly explained? We can assume what happened, but In a world without hope why would Atwood leave rescue up to inference? Also, in a book with such feminist themes wouldn’t it have been more productive if the woman rose up and it was not men who came to the rescue?