Living up to expectation

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No offense to the other books I have read recently, but THIS. THIS. THIS lived up to every bit of hype surrounding the book/series. I have not seen the series yet, because I do not have access to a Hulu account at the moment. I haven’t devoured a novel like this in a long time. I really cannot emphasize how much I enjoyed the writing. I think I have an aversion to period pieces (but that’s about to change because Gina sent me “Little Women” to read next). This had the feel of a period piece, but the flashes back of “former times” when former times is referring to the contemporary, roots this in a way that makes me feel more sympathetic to the women. And totally horrified at the same time. Thinking about my political ideologies, I’d like to think I would be part of the underground resistance…but being 35 (and also my extreme phobia of pregnancy) I probably wouldn’t make a good Handmaiden. I’d probably be a Martha…though unless I missed it, they didn’t quite explain how one is chosen to be a Martha.

It’s amazing how they tried to justify this enslaving of women as if they would be better off under these VERY rigid gender roles. Unable to speak, read, leave the house unattended, no financial resources or independence whatsoever. If a wife, forced to watch your husband repeatedly try to impregnate an assigned Handmaiden. If a Handmaiden, forced to be a vessel for children, just laying there as the Commander rapes you repeatedly. They don’t call it rape in the book. There is actually a part where they attempt to explain that it isn’t quite like rape…because of a very very frail theory that there was a “choice” to become a Handmaiden. But as far as the options for this “choice” are concerned, it’s more of being backed in a corner of survival. Not choice.

If you have read the book or have seen the series, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. I rushed through the first half of the book, but then had to put it down for a week to take care of some career obligations (to which I am thrilled to share here). Then yesterday I took the day to rest and read saving the last 20 or so pages for this morning.

Sexuality: Documents of Contemporary Art, Edited By Amelia Jones: 170 pages read

A Working Theory of Love, By Scott Hutchins: 325 pages

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, By Neil deGrasse Tyson: 3h, 41m equal to 244 pages (according to Amazon)

Trans*, By Jack Halberstam: 3 chapters, 80 pages

The Handmaid’s Tale, By Margaret Atwood: 309 pages

Running Tally of Pages: 1,128

14 comments on “Living up to expectation”

  1. I’m glad you read this book, Daniela. I read it quite a while ago. When was it published? Well, I can look that up easily. It is powerful. And isn’t this how it goes? This (awful thing) is in your best interest, my dear. I’m not sure I want to see it interpreted for the screen, and, like you, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to.

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    1. I believe it was published sometime in the 80’s so there’s still plenty of contemporary references like to magazines and the wife makes me think of Tammy Fey Baker…but maybe in time these things will be lost. It’s scary to think though the more digital we become and the less tangible our holdings, the easier a takeover might be. But like I said, I wouldn’t go down without a fight!

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  2. Daniela, I couldn’t watch the series because the book was so disturbing to me (though I value the story deeply). I have a difficult time with the violence and suppression that this story elegantly presents, and if I saw it on screen, I might end up crying the whole time. But, that’s not to discourage you of course! Just my own mental incapability manifesting in a silly comment…

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  3. Epiphany! I have been wanting to watch this series, but I also don’t have Hulu. I was planning to try to get a free trial and binge watch this while I recovered from my surgery over Thanksgiving, but I wasn’t up to watching TV. I have no clue why I didn’t think of the book. Thank you.

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    1. I picked up a copy from my local library. I went to renew my card (why would library cards ever expire?) and while I was perusing the stacks, it also was a “no duh” kind of moment when I came across it.

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      1. Lol, glad I’m not the only one. As for library cards expiring – I see why, technically for administration reasons this could be so, nevertheless, I feel like a library card should offer some sort of eternal certainty that an expiration contradicts.

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  4. Yes, this book…wow. Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, just a year after that fateful date, 1984. And so the book comes from a time when there was a disconnect between the exaggerated cheeriness of the ’80’s with all that booming prosperity (but only for certain people), and the images of a dystopian yet contemporary future these two books projected. I remember reading HT practically as soon as it came out. Somehow I felt in those days that I was being contrary to the general trend of capitalistic society, being a violin student living on student loans, barely scraping by while my former college classmates were cutting billion-dollar deals on Wall Street, but the mother-question–what would be the shape of my gestational future and how I would be able to do everything I wanted to do without becoming “like my mother” loomed very large in my consciousness. This book told me all I needed to know.

    And so flash forward a lot of years (really a lot), and when the Hulu series came out, I couldn’t watch it. Especially given the nature of our country in November 2016. And also because it was hard for me to justify not believing that in some small way the prophesy of HT had come a tiny bit true for me: ensconced in motherhood and still yearning for it even though my kids were no longer kids, in a relationship in which the dominant economic force came from my husband, not free to go off and do whatever I wanted because, well….because my role was practically enforced by certain expectations. This is a long way from actual enslavement, but to me Atwood’s point was that in many ways we are all enslaved by what is expected of us, just to make society work this way.

    And then don’t get me started on the whole idea of WHITE slavery being so much more oppressive and scary, even in fiction or maybe especially in fiction, that this country’s own sordid history of enslavement of African Americans. Maybe because Atwood is Canadian she might have missed (or the time she was writing didn’t immediately bring up) the nuances of racial subjugation, since she was clearly writing about totalitarianism filtered through gender discrimination.

    But then I remember my ninth grade biology teacher saying, during the unit on reproduction, that a woman has two states of being: pregnant or not pregnant. This was extraordinarily reductionist, even in the context of late 20th century Upper West Side New York liberalism. It’s true and it’s not true, and I wanted to wrest away this designation from male domination–male evaluation–though by the beginning of the 21st century, I don’t think I’ve made much progress.

    In any case, I did finally start watching the series because my daughter wanted to, and I felt that in some small way this was important, to watch together (and maybe she will eventually read the book) and to be able to begin discussing these issues. Maybe things will be different for her in her own life going forward. I really don’t know, and I have my doubts, but at least there are books like HT that force us to reconsider society and our roles in it and what we do–what we can do, what we must do–with our lives.

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    1. Wow, thank you so much for sharing. I’m sorry I hadn’t gotten back to your comment sooner. As someone who read the book and is now watching the series (I still haven’t started it), how well do you think it translates? To they broach the issue of race? Because as you pointed out, it isn’t really discussed in the book which focused primarily on gender and class…and kind of pushed sexuality to the side.

      I’m very happy to report that I am “not pregnant” and am more than happy to remain in that state of being.

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      1. I think that the series has made the book more accessible to a contemporary audience–there are references to Uber and smartphones–and this makes total sense, even if we are approaching an ’80’s throwback moment (oh no, shoulder pads!). Race is more of an issue than in the book, but only nominally–I think Atwood was making a broader statement about totalitarianism which obliterates everything in its path, and that this reproductive slavery, while it has uncomfortable allusions to actual American slavery, stands in for the way women and people of color and anyone crushed by oppressors are routinely “enslaved” by the desires of the powerful.

        The series is worth watching, though, because the camera can capture the complete sense of despair and hopelessness that June experiences in a visceral way and it is so stunningly visual–all those reds against dark backgrounds and the simple, Puritanesque quality of the clothing –the book accomplishes this too, but its as if the series has concentrated the book, made everything that much more heightened and frightening.

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    1. Thank you, Nadia! I plan to be at the gallery Saturday and Sunday in case you made your way down. But please let me know if you are planning a visit, it would be great to meet in person!

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  5. I am close to Margaret Atwood’s age (she’s 78 and Canadian), and I read the Handmaiden’s Tale near the time of its publication (1985). I remember how horrifying it was. Unfortunately, it is popular again because of its relevance to so many during our current political climate which shines a light on problems that have been with us forever–sometimes they are just easier to ignore depending on one’s privileged place in society. I searched for a recent interview and found the following site: https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=A0LEVvtUBoJap6EAllAPxQt.?p=Margaret+Atwood&fr=yhs-pty-pty_maps&fr2=piv-web&hspart=pty&hsimp=yhs-pty_maps&type=ma_appfocus84_cr#id=25&vid=255a2717a497549b956d321f51ce6db0&action=view Atwood talks about the book and the series that is getting so much acclaim. She is a very interesting woman with a commanding personality.

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    1. Thank you for sharing that video. The point she makes at the end about healthcare being limited is a little scary. While she sounds optimistic that the pushback will keep things in check, it’s hard to not feel helpless sometimes. I know we aren’t helpless. We just can’t allow that feeling to take over.

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