Hats off to Margaret Atwood


One picture, one image sprung from the fertile imagination of a prolific writer, has traveled around the world. The red cape and the white bonnet have come to stand for resistance against repression. To have such an effect on the imagination of readers of literary fiction that the picture transcends the work itself and becomes a recognizable symbol is an achievement almost beyond words. The impact speaks to the mirror held up to our lives. The story has to have some basis in reality, or we would not respond to it as we have.

Back when The Handmaid’s Tale was released, I listened to a radio interview with Ms. Atwood. A fictional place, set somewhere in the United States, had fallen into a theocracy. Plummeting fertility rates sent leaders to a passage in the Bible where the use of a handmaid was the only hope for a childless couple. Ms. Atwood traveled with a sheath of articles in her bag, enabling her to make a case for an historical premise.  So the plausibility of Gilead grew through the decades, and readers responded. It became a feature film and then a Hulu series. This year, Ms. Atwood stated that the current political climate put the wind in her sails in order to create the long-awaited sequel.

Veering from one narrative voice to three, the story is expanded to include different generations and circumstances. The fearsome matron, Lydia, is fleshed out and changes from pure villain to what the reader understands as a necessary evil. The voices of the younger women work beautifully and are braided seamlessly into the tale. The desire to want Gilead to fail is a primal one as we all cherish freedom and know that it is fragile. The skill, the craft, the spare and taut story-telling has long been Ms. Atwood’s strength. A descendant of New England Puritans herself, she drew on what became of that first and terribly failed theocracy on American soil. The thread of it lingers through all projects relating to Gilead as it does in our consciousness. The statues on the Boston Common remind us, lest we forget, that we threw off the bonnet a long time ago.

Monument to Mary Dyer by Sylvia Shaw Judson


Monument to Mary Dyer by Sylvia  Shaw Judson