Out of sheer cowardice, I've avoided The Handmaid's Tale for 25 years, but it's a book club pick, so I had to confront it. As we all know, it's a dystopian novel about an America taken over by patriarchal theocrats. The narrator, Offred, is a Handmaid, whose only role in society is to breed. Most women are forbidden to read and write, although they are read conveniently doctored passages from the Bible, such as "Blessed are the silent." The women with some measure of protection in this society are the shallow, trivialized and lonely Wives, and the smug and humorless Aunts, who act as the patriarchy's enforcers against their own kind.
The narrative is so constrained as to be claustrophobic, as if the reader is experiencing the world with her vision restricted by the uniform the handmaidens wear. The tone is, of course, dark, but there are touches of arch humor. Sadly, it feels relevant today, although some passages evoke specific controversies within the second-wave feminist movement for those of us who were there. I'm guessing that younger readers will miss the critique of cultural feminism and may not fully appreciate the porn-wars theme.