Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood [audiobook]

The Handmaid's Tale: Special Edition
$25.95 $25.95
By Margaret Atwood, Valerie Martin - essay
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

By all accounts, I really should have liked this book more. Picture a dystopian near-future America where Christofascists have taken over, turned the country into a monotheocracy, and enslaved women into a life of servitude and procreation. It's certainly a timely read in the Age of Trump and Republican desires to set the country's clock back a couple hundred years (best-case scenario), that's for sure. There's rebellions, an underground railroad helping women escape, mysterious colonies where the "impure" women are banished, brainwashing camps, might makes right mentalities, etc.

It sounds great, right? Only problem is, all the things that are most interesting about this world are swept under the rug and largely ignored. Atwood hints at them, but never dives any deeper than that. All the suspense and drama is forsaken for a narrative about dull, servile domesticity. And while that may be the point, it makes for one hell of a slog to get through.

My only previous experience with Atwood was 2015's The Heart Goes Last, which I also didn't care for. She may be a hell of a writer, but unfortunately it seems she is just not for me. Conceptually, she crafts some mighty fine ideas, but the execution is sorely lacking. I need more suspense, drama, and action to keep me interested.

The Handmaid's Tale is just too slow, too plodding, and too mundane to do much for me. Perhaps I simply expected too much, given the acclaim, awards, and fannish devotion this book has inspired in so many other readers? Now that we're getting close to 100 days in Trump's America, a dystopia come to life if I've ever seen one, there's really very little that's quiet about it. We've got neo-Nazi's running rampant both within and outside the White House, daily threats of war and a serial sex offender President who, during his campaign, kept asking why we don't just use our nukes, in between demanding protesters be beaten and mocking the disabled, religious crazies stockpiled to the rafters of Congress, and women's rights being threatened on a daily basis. There's nothing quiet and mundane about any of this, and yet Offred's future enslavement is so very, very prosaic and quaint. I wanted something that would rile me up and make me shake my hands in fury. I wanted heroes to rise up against the tyranny and fight back. I wanted a rebellion to root for!

Instead, there's none of that. We witness the occasional hanging, we get a few sentences to illuminate how this world came to be, and we get to accompany Offred on some of her regular shopping trips to buy chicken and soap. There's even a nice scene where she eats a piece of toast. Meanwhile, any opportunity for struggle or strength or triumph is strangled in the crib.

Claire Danes narrates the audiobook and does a fine job of it, given that the narrative itself is pretty milquetoast. This new Audible edition has some bonus material, which I skipped because I'd already gotten my fill on the material with the book itself.

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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