IS THIS WHAT OTHER WOMEN FEEL TOO?

Slender, quietly compelling second novel (What Waiting Really Means, 1990) in which a middle-aged woman, gathering wisdom along the way, looks back over a troubled past. In her early 40s, Kate has at last reached a point where she is ``finally concentrating on what I can see and touch,'' having learned that ``life isn't a jigsaw puzzle'' in which everything, including love affairs, must connect. She recalls her often difficult and mostly unhappy journey to this point in a series of letters to and from Parker, a friend, and in a series of first- person narratives. A student in late 1950's Detroit (when ``Hemingway was the big gun in the English Department, but Lady Chatterley was passed around''), Kate fell in love with 56-year-old Francis, a bookseller with an invalid wife. He loved Kate, she believes, because old men can pretend better with a young woman; but then Francis died suddenly, and she fled Detroit for a small town. Deeply depressed, she began seeing a psychiatrist, to whom she described her unhappy and disturbed childhood, her devastation at the loss of Francis, and her unsatisfactory affairs with men as troubled as herself. Gradually—and this is revealed best in the letters—Kate begins to heal. She starts a reading group for black teenagers, which she continues as the riots devastate the city to which she has recently returned. A new love affair and a willingness to make friends give her finally a measure of tranquillity—which might sound like an easy psychobabble solution, but Seese is too intelligent and too good a writer for something as trite as that. An ordinary story of an ordinary woman made memorable by the author's wry sense of humor, honesty, and eye for human foibles. Small but good.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1991

ISBN: 0-916583-82-1

Page Count: 151

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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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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