Monday, October 14, 2019

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

I was curious to see how Atwood handled a return to Gilead after so much time, a television series, and a world that is slipping ever nearer to the sanctimonious evil of her authoritarian dystopia.

Her choice of three narrators--the daughter of a high-ranking Commander, a second girl who grew up in Canada with parents who deplored Gilead's policies, and the hated Aunt Lydia, one of the chief enforcers of Gilead's female related laws,  proved an excellent means of telling us more about the inner working of this repugnant society.

It's been quite a few years since I read The Handmaid's Tale, and I've not watched the television series. So I was pleased to learn more--Atwood's world(society)-building skills are top notch and I was entranced by the first part of the novel. The early scene where professional women are rounded up and discover that they have been stripped of all rights was chilling, partially because in the present political climate, it doesn't seem impossible.

As the woman who will become Aunt Lydia thinks: Stupid, stupid, stupid: I'd believed all that claptrap about life, liberty, democracy, and the rights of the individual . . .I'd depended on that, as if on a magic charm. . .

There's been a coup, here in the United States . . .Any forced change in leadership is always followed by a move to crush the opposition. The opposition is led by the educated, so the educated are the first to be eliminated. . .

I see such parallels with our current regime. The educated are not being rounded up, not yet, but they are being systematically devalued with cries of fake news and elitism. Not to mention 45*'s choices for his administration where actual knowledge is trumped by loyalty to the Orange One.

Gilead's society continues to have chilling similarities to the religious right's vision for the US and I found that part of the book quite compelling. I also liked learning Aunt Lydia's full story.

But once the setup of the story was complete--and it's an interesting, well thought out setup--the plot turned a bit melodramatic, like a well done Young Adult thriller. It also seemed rushed. Not bad --but not as compelling as the the earlier part of the novel--or as the previous novel.

Still, I'd heartily recommend The Testaments to anyone who enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale. It's satisfying to learn more and to come to a tying up of loose ends.

Those of you who've read it, what did you think? 

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

"That's what fiction is for. It's for getting at the truth when the truth isn't sufficient for the truth." Tim O'Brien

Just  as The Overstory told truths about a very real environmental struggle, The Nickel Boys hits home much harder than any newspaper article or documentary ever could

Yes, it's another important book-- the fictional account of a young black man, sent to a hellish reform school for the innocent mistake of accepting a ride with a stranger in a stolen car--his lofty ideals, his struggle to survive, and his hope of exposing the brutality and corruption at the heart of the school.

Whitehead's compelling narrative is inspired by The Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida which existed for over a hundred years, perpetrating unspeakable wrongs on the young men sentenced to its 'care.' 

Whitehead's writing is so strong that at first I was convinced he was writing from personal experience. Not so. 

He relied on first person accounts by former 'students' (see  Official White House Boys Organization website HERE ) and reporting in the Tampa Bay Times that first exposed the vile practices at the facility -- physical and sexual abuse, food and supplies (soap! toothpaste!) meant for the boys sold to to local merchants, restaurants, and motels, and the graves--the official cemetery and the other one, the one for the boys who'd supposedly run away.

The story was especially disturbing to me as I grew up aware that there was a reform school not far away in Marianna but completely unaware of the stark reality. 

The story is set in the early Sixties, when Jim Crow and integration had collided and the proponents of segregation were especially brutal in defending their 'way of life.' And that disturbed me too, as I was blind to so much of what was going on at the time.

Another excellent and necessary book. Another highly recommended.