I worked three jobs in the summer of 2005. I frequently worked more than one during any given day. Days off did not exist- except, miraculously, for the 4th of July. The history of the 4th holds no meaning here, just that I finally had a day to myself. I spent my one day off in bed, reading The Handmaid’s Tale from cover to cover. I did not leave the room. I turned down, much to the chagrin of the person whose bed it was, all opportunities for the beach, the barbecue- everything. I had to finish that book, and it has remained- at least in the back of my mind- every day since.
News of the television adaptation hit me like a brick; how would they translate the world into something both visual and visceral? What would be added? What would be left out? Who would make it out alive? I watched the first season, was more or less content, and went about my way. Somewhere between that finale and today (I have yet to watch any more, but now that I have finished this book I may go back) news of this sequel came rocketing out of the internet. I was ECSTATIC.
An Atwood sequel had never let me down (I love the MaddAddam trilogy) and I pre-ordered this one as soon as humanly possible. It arrived at my house the day before it’s release date…
…and it sat, unopened, on my dining room table for months.
I don’t know what it is about me, but the more excited I am about a new thing, the less likely I am to jump right in. A new movie that I really want to see is out? I’ll wait til rental (ESPECIALLY now! not leaving my house except to work!). New album from a beloved band that hasn’t put anything out in years? I’ll wait another year then parse it out song by song. New novel from a favorite author AND a sequel to a favorite book? I’ll let it sit forever.
Also, the country was a mess in August and September of 2019, and I needed some light escapism. What, the country is STILL a mess? Even more so?! A government refusing to acknowledge the existence of a plague? The disenfranchised being left to die? Innocent people being gunned down by systemically racist government-supported fascists? People PROUD to be vocal racists? As Atwood puts it in The Testaments:
As they say, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.
So yes, I finally sat down and immersed myself completely in The Testaments. It wasn’t a one-day affair like The Handmaid’s Tale, but it still kept me locked in an icy grip. The three narrators of The Testaments wind their way around each-other, Gilead, and the outside world. Things are vicious, violent, and extreme. Secrets are currency, and women are a commodity. Our three narrators cover several worlds; an Aunt of great (relative) power on the inside, a teenager on the outside, and a girl raised within Gilead. Their connections are dizzying and thrilling, their hopes are warped and woven together, and all three must exist for the story to be as one.
While daring adventures in espionage, subterfuge, and escape are inherently exciting, the stakes were unfortunately low; as a reader you knew what would have to happen, because as a reader you were actively experiencing the post-action reflections of at least two of the narrators. You could not be reading their recollections had they not escaped their ordeals. Things tied up a bit too neatly; The Handmaid’s Tale was a perpetual ball of anxiety and ambiguity, while The Testaments were gifted to you in perfect packaging with a tidy bow on top. Not that I am complaining; even though I love Atwood, I know and accept some of her shortcomings (which in the long run are not bad at all, she is phenomenal)- she can get wrapped up in “wrapping things up”, and her names for “future” items will always be ridiculous. I know “econowives” popped up in the first instillation, but I still giggle every time the term pops up. Much like the “chickienobs buckit o bobbins” and “AnooYoo” of Oryx and Crake (and “Painballers”, we can’t forget Painballers!) the desire to be clever often becomes a badge of silliness.
The Testaments is a testament to survival; we do what we must. We cope how we can. We wear badges, take oaths, don uniforms, pledge allegiances, give praise to higher powers- and for what? The chance to survive.