Friday, February 20, 2009

BOOKS I CAN’T PUT DOWN (“THE HANDMAID’S TALE”)

There is nothing more delicious than an engrossing book, and time to read it; so it’s doubly frustrating when the only available time is right before bed and the book is even remotely thought-provoking or disturbing. (I learned this the hard way when I thought I’d get sleepy by reading one more chapter of “The World According To Garp”, and the chapter in question was the one with the infamous oral-sex-in-the-parked-car-accident - ignore the rest of this paragraph if you haven’t read the book - and I was up for another 2 hours until I found out what happened and could get my heartrate back down.)

I love re-reading favorites, and at the top of my list has always been The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, a story of a totalitarian, male-dominated society run amok and stripping women of all rights. I actually couldn’t open the book during the Bush administration, because the political story was a bit too close to home, but now that a Democrat is back in the White House, I was ready. But of course, I made the mistake of starting it last night before bed, and I had to put it down and read a cooking magazine before I could relax. Of course, I rarely have the time, energy or discipline to read an entire book - but this one ‘had me at hello’, again.

Atwood is a genius at parcelling out little bits of the back story, so the reader has to wait hungrily for each explanatory detail, to find out how the heroine ended up a ‘handmaid’ (women owned by childless couples in order to provide them with babies), what happened to her own child & husband, the fates of her feminist single mother and adventurously rebellious lesbian best friend. Even though I remembered the basic plot outline, I’d forgotten novel touches like hoarded-butter-as-lotion and the forbidden nocturnal Scrabble games. A combination of admiration for Atwood’s story-telling and impatience to find out what happened next meant I had trouble putting the book down. (I had to bribe myself - “Finish that proposal and you can read another chapter”, “Run your errands and then you can read while you wait for Ben to finish practice.”)

But in my fervor, I’ve gobbled the book up, and there’s none left, so I’m that greedy kid who ate all her Halloween candy in two nights instead of making it last until it was stale. Really good books are a form of pigging out, only without the sour stomach and cellulite, just a sense of sadness that it’s all gone. Oh, I can re-read it to savor the word use and literary structure, but it’s a diluted pleasure, like a weak cup of tea from a squeezed-out used teabag . The first time through (after 8 years) is such a weirdly wonderful hodgepodge of creepiness and fascination and spine-tingling horror and titillation - I’ll have to wait a few years to have that again. On the other hand, I have a few hours for my adrenaline to subside, so I should have an easier time falling asleep tonight.

1 comment:

E said...

That is such a great description of how you read - I love it. "Gobbled up" - so perfect! And I totally agree with you. It is a great book.