Is there a book that you wish you could “unread”? One that you disliked so thoroughly you wish you could just forget that you ever read it?
The nightmares came in cycles, most often during my own time of the month, in some strange synchrony with the protagnoist’s performance of her official duties as a “handmaiden” – a faceless woman chosen only for her ability to breed. The dream images were stark and evil, and in them my world was filled with imprisonment, terror, and darkness.
I read The Handmaid’s Tale soon after it was published in 1985. It was a time in American history when the conservative ideals of a very popular President were holding sway in the minds of many. And while I didn’t really believe the authoritarian, patriarchal society Margaret Atwood was describing in her dystopian novel would actually come to pass, nevertheless, the horrifying vision of the Republic of Gilead made a deep impression on me. Gilead can best be described as a “feminist nightmare, a place where women were strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various class – the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the “morally fit” Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: “of Fred”), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be.”
And nightmares I had, for months after reading this book. Naturally, I assiduously avoided the film, which starred Faye Dunaway and (the late) Natasha Richardson. I’ve never had a book affect me so deeply, and while I might not wish it “unread,” I would wish the horrifying images of those nightmares erased from my mind.
Perversely, I’ve kept the book on my shelf on this time, and could right now go into the basement and pluck it from the spot where it’s been resting quietly for almost 15 years. But I believe I’ll leave that terrifying story remain tucked safely away between Gail Godwin’s A Southern Family and Helen Hoover Santmyer’s And Ladies of the Club, both very kinder versions of a woman’s world.
Now tell me – have you ever had nightmares about a book?