The Handmaid's Tale Book Review

imgresI know someone who wrote my favorite book thus far this year (2016 and 2017!). It’s Abby Fabiaschi, and the book is I Liked My Life, which went into a publishing book war with four major houses bidding on it. Lucky her. Lucky me for getting to read a pre-published copy.

Moving right along.

We were speaking on the phone about some other matters, and we started talked about The Handmaid’s Tale, which is coming out in a series (more on that another time), and we were off to the races about what it means for today’s political climate and our shock and awe at what we thought could never be our country’s take on things. I suggested she write a review of the book, calling out some of the issues. Here it is: my friend Abby’s take on what your next read needs to be. Thanks Abby!

Haven’t read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale yet? Well, there’s no time like the present, and I don’t mean that in the casual, carpe diem way the cliche implies. I mean it literally: there is an urgency to and a reason for the sudden resurgence of sales for this compelling bestseller.

In it, Atwood creates a fantasy time in US history where people of power leverage fear of Islamic terrorism to suspend the constitution and enforce a militant state. The media is deemed collaborators delivering fake news and hunted as sworn enemies. Protest marches are quickly stopped by the effective counter measure of open fire. Once fear has overtaken the non-reigning population, the Gilead regime, as it is called, executes its full, demented, horrifying plan for humanity.

As it was published in 1986, while I was learning to read, I missed its first wave of popularity. When I bought it, I had no idea why it was suddenly popping up on every list, but as soon as I read this line I understood with great clarity: “Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now. We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” Because, really, that is what we are all doing now. Even those of us making calls to our representatives and signing petitions. In between these moments of empowerment we are becoming acquainted with a new normal. It’s disturbing to see this from Atwood’s lens— the risk of it, the reality that one turn of power can beget another. And another. And another.

There are lines in this book that could serve as a direct response to things happening in our nation. On healthcare, try this quotation: “Better never means better for everyone,” he says. “It always means worse, for some.” Or, more generally, how about this one? “Perhaps he’s reached that state of intoxication which power is said to inspire, the state in which you believe you are indispensable and can therefore do anything, absolutely anything you feel like, anything at all.” (This led me to grunt. Perhaps a certain leader is just constantly drunk?)

They say the truth is stranger than fiction. I’m a believer in this. There are many things that have happened to me that my editor would red line with “readers won’t buy this.” When I finished The Handmaid’s Tale I found myself praying that fiction would prove stranger than the truth. Although now, even more than before, I’m on high alert.

Abby Fabiaschi

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