A BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER

More sad songs—replay them as they lay—in the shimmering oblivion of empty glasses down in Boca Grande (Central America) where Charlotte, another Maria, comes to stay before she is killed. Guerrilleros are everywhere, bloodshed seems inevitable. Charlotte's story is told by an older woman, a lifetime "student of delusion," now dying of cancer. As she comments, Charlotte dreamed her life and didn't make enough distinctions. Like a revenant, she goes to the airport every day, looking for her daughter Marin who hasn't been seen for months, Marin who hijacked a jet and is wanted by the FBI. She's the daughter of Charlotte's first husband Warren, a professor and something of a bastard (he contributes one of the few sharper lines in this book). He's also dying of cancer and for a while they travel together through the motel land of the South. Sometimes they're joined by Charlotte's second husband, Leonard, an activist lawyer, and later he disposes of Warren's ashes. Charlotte is carrying Leonard's child who will never see life—a hydrocephalic. Another mortal statistic. But then is Charlotte really alive—in a haze of amphetamines, sleeping in the afternoon, lying awake at night afraid of the dark? One of those lost ladies, dim survivors. Maybe she couldn't make any distinctions but Joan Didion knows the right ones—the Peychaud bitters that go with the Tanqueray gin. They add a decorative sophistication to all these fatal conjunctions. But my, what a stacked deck, as glossy and synthetic as those plastic cards which stick in humid weather. Que sera, this has the same frayed, seductive quality as the earlier novel and it will connect again, one to one, one to many.

Pub Date: March 1, 1977

ISBN: 0679754865

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1977

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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