With the exception of vivid erotic scenes, this one’s a wash.



In this first novel, high-school friends Maize and Robbie attempt sex, but Robbie has much to learn about his sexual identity. They drift apart until a chance meeting brings them back together as fast friends who entrust one another with every detail of their lives.

Everything, that is, except the crush Maize had on her high-school counselor, which amounted to nil but about which she continues even as an adult to obsess. Then there was a sexual escapade with the man who conducted a college-entrance interview. Robbie’s only lapse in full disclosure is the loss of his virginity to a male college professor who turned resentful after Robbie ended it. Robbie visits his divorced father in Italy, where he wanders aimlessly and tails his father’s new woman, imagining she’s cheating on his dad. Then it’s back to New York to his internship at a paper, where he rues his underpayment and lack of respect from the staff, due, he believes, to his elevated tastes and lack of hipness. Maize, meanwhile, submits to demeaning on-the-job treatment from her abusive realtor boss while she pines for a red-headed musician co-worker. When Maize catches her boss stealing from clients, he fires her. Robbie and Maize are caricatures, filling pages with adolescent, naïve meditations on love and life, which Maize scribbles furtively in her diary while imagining the professional writer she’ll one day become. Hapless analogies provide unintentional comedy in the overall aimless text: “his amber-colored mustache furrowed and lifted like an alert.” “He was paralyzed the way someone having a stroke is suddenly paralyzed.” Robbie comes to see that his father isn’t as bad as he thought, and even his mother, bitter throughout, experiences a last-minute change of heart, but these tacked-on transformations only add false sentimentality to the mix.

With the exception of vivid erotic scenes, this one’s a wash.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-17697-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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


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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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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