Goodreads tells me I’ve read this three times, although it feels like more, since I’ve also taught it twice. It’s a terrifying book in the sense that it COULD happen very easily, and even more terrifying when you realize that what white women are being put through in the novel is something that ALREADY happened around the world to other women, in some form or another.
I won’t bother to recap the story, because it’s been read and re-read before, plus the Hulu series illuminates the story for you. But what I will say is that the novel is infinitely better than the series, because of its mere writing style and frame. Depicting the novel as a series of vignettes does a lot to engage the reader, because it involves them and forces them to fill in all sorts of gaps on their own, thus making it a unique and relatable reading experience. Furthermore, portraying Offred as a modern-day Scheherazade illuminates the power that comes with a story–something I find moving as an English professor. Offred is no longer allowed to read or write, but remembering her past life, her name, and the things that happen serve as landmarks for her future audience to avoid her mistakes and also warn them of what could happen if they, too, become too complacent.
I have always appreciated the historical note at the very end, because it is a brilliant takedown of academia (seriously, Professor Piexoto’s self-importance is maddening) and also a reminder of how little we can know of the past beyond what is preserved and saves the test of time. As one Eliza Schuyler Hamilton would remind us, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” and Offred’s paltry offering to us is a reminder to seek out the fragile, beautiful, and unfinished stories all around us.