Soon the sun will shine and the daffodils will dance and that fairest of seasons, sweet, sweet spring will be upon us.
As winter takes her leave, here are a couple of very different books the Ladies on Literature read. We invite you to follow along, here in Okanagan Woman, and online at shannonlinden.ca for recipes and reviews.
The Handmaid’s Tale
By Margaret Atwood
This classic, written by the incomparable Margaret Atwood and published in 1985, was resurrected when media mogul, Hulu, went on to produce the television series in 2017.
The President of the United States and most of Congress has been killed and the Sons of Jacob, a patriarchal group operating under the guise of religious ideology, have taken over. Women hold little power and have no voice. They cannot own property or make money—they aren’t even allowed to read or write.
Environmental destruction and radiation has left the world a bleak place, deprived of hope and natural resources, including children. Infertility afflicts all but a small percentage of women who are forced into confinement to bear children for the upper ruling class of Commanders and their ruthless wives.
Set in fictional Gilead, the Handmaid’s Tale was written as a cautionary story—a warning, of what might happen if a democratic nation was overtaken by an authoritarian theocracy. When she penned it, Atwood famously said she didn’t put a single thing in the disturbing book that hadn’t happened somewhere in the world, in real life.
The protagonist, named June, was born to a feminist mother. Educated, she had a career and married a divorced man named Luke. Together they had a daughter. After the military coup falls the government, Luke and June make a run for Canada, but they are caught, separated, and their daughter taken away. June is sent to a re-education center to be indoctrinated in the dark ways of a new world.
Renamed Ofred (of-Fred, for the commander who essentially owns her), June vacillates between hope and despair as she fights to survive, her ultimate goal to escape and reunite with her family.
What’s really scary is how elements of this book are occurring in present-day USA. If you didn’t devour it as part of your high school curriculum, get your hands on this book now. Winner of the 1985 Governor General’s award, it’s a difficult, but must read.
The Dangerous Animals Club
By Stephen Tobolowsky
While the author’s name may not ring a bell, you might recognize his face. Well known in Hollywood, Tobolowsky boasts an impressive list of character roles in both movies and television, everything from Groundhog Day to Glee.
Turns out, the actor is also an excellent storyteller. The book is a series of vignettes. It opens with the title chapter, a delightful trip down Tobolowsky’s early childhood lane.
With the inquisitive confidence inherent to a five-year old boy set free to explore his own backyard, Tobolowsky teams up with an older (and wiser) friend, to form a special club. Intent upon capturing as many dangerous animals as they can (and being in Texas, there are no shortage), the boys reluctantly allow another youngster, who produces a rattlesnake skull, to join their ranks. While the newcomer argues a blood pact is in order, seven-year old president, Billy, claims the activities of the club are dangerous enough.
And so they prove to be, as the boys catch scorpions in jars and leeches on their legs. They trick tarantulas from their holes, outrun poisonous snakes, and evade the neighbor’s nasty German shepherd.
One of the scorpions manages to live for days, “floating near the bottom of a jelly jar - in an environment of pure alcohol, much like I did in the 1980’s,” quips Tobolowsky.
The story brings back memories of hot summer days, leisurely spent riding bikes and digging in the dirt, meeting in secret clubhouses and rushing home in time to wash up for dinner. The author “fades in some forty years later,” connecting his own boyhood spent hunting insects, to his youngest son’s ability to talk-to-the-animals.
Vacationing in France, Tobolowsky is a married father of two boys, when William proclaims he can communicate with bats.
“Now that I know their language, I can make them our friends,” William states.
Much to his father’s shock, it’s true. When William makes high-pitched squeaks, bats come flying.
“Parents know that occasionally children will utter a sentence in which every word can make you question the fabric of sanity. But I believe that it is in these moments when you get a peek at the secret world your children have had had all along,” the author writes.
At the heart of this book is a man who embraces adventure, yet who possesses the rare ability to see poetry in the everyday.
The Alchemist plays tribute to his magical mother while Miss Hard to Get poignantly portrays love at first sight. The Middle Chapters starts out as a hilarious recollection of moving to Hollywood, where Tobolowsky finds an apartment his mom thinks is clean primarily because it is painted white.
As the story progresses, Tobolowsky notices the gay district, home to his favourite breakfast haunt, is changing. Regulars are disappearing and surviving men are showing up with holes in their faces. Recalling the early years of the AIDS epidemic, Tobolowsky meets a young man who wants to write his own memoire. He knows where his life story starts and ends, but he will have no middle chapters.
True to form, Tobolowsky combines humor with poetic insight in this story—and many more. Sometimes the author meanders off course, but he always brings the story back around. Overall, a delightful read.