Tag: book review (page 3 of 3)

A Handmaid’s Tale: A Look at Dystopian Novels

Because there are more than a pleasant share of reviews of this dystopian novel, I’m going to go in a different direction and provide some thoughts I had as I read Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale.

My main thought is about the dystopian novel itself, as a genre. Not only are dystopian novels common, they are prominent in literature, taught in schools, read in book clubs, revered by conspiracy nuts and theorists, and loved by most who consider themselves high minded.

Most of you realize that dystopian novels are a type of speculative fiction. They point to the absurdity of certain social norms. In many cases they point to the contradictions of social, ecological, economic, gender, and technological mores. Authors of dystopian stories yell at their reader, “Look what we’re doing! Look at where we’re headed! Change before it’s too late!”

But most of you probably don’t think of dystopia stories as short sighted. I do.

I give my reasoning in a story of my own, a true story.

When I was still in graduate school, I went to a talk.I don’t remember the focus, but I do remember the title and synopsis suggested it was about Marxism, the working man, and society in today’s world. What it actually turned into was an “academic” talk about how today’s world is full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and that we need to find a path back to the “Good ole days.”

Sans myself and two other graduate student I went with, there were no participants under the age of 50. The “take away” message was that we’ve fallen from decency. What we need to do is somehow find a way back to the 40s and 50s where people were pure, the economy was great, patriotism was important, and politicians were human.

What all the participants of this talk seemed to do (the three of us excluded) was to romanticize the world they grew up in. All the while, they forgot that young women were shipped off the an “aunts” house when they shamed their family by getting pregnant in high school. They forgot the beginnings of the Cold War where children practiced Nuclear War drills! They forgot that men knifed each other for looking at “their” girls. They forgot the ideal of the pregnant and barefoot wife in the kitchen.They forgot about racial segregation and women’s rights movements and race riots. To be fair, there were no non-whites in the room.

Dystopian novels follow this same arch. Though they point out particular inconsistencies and absurdities about society and civilization as a whole, they all pine and romanticize for a bygone era.

Margaret Atwood is one of the few I’ve come across that doesn’t do this. Atwood does not romanticize about the world she grew up in or lives in now. She doesn’t demonize the futuristic speculative, arguably (il)logical conclusion to the puritan U.S. social culture any more than she demonizes “the way things were” in her book.

Rather, Atwood suggests that in the world we live in, society men have created an manufactured dichotomy of options.

Option One: Men have the “freedom to.

Option Two: Women can have the “freedom from.

That is it. Essentially, recognizes that men have “given women the choice.” Women can choose to be subjugated to men’s sexual urges and turned into objects of sexual appeal and toys for their men’s own sexual pleasure. Or, women can choose to be hidden from men entirely in a puritan fashion. Of course, this means men still have to procreate, so they choose non-sexual women to have non-sexual intercourse.

Either way, women are subjugated.

My feminist hat off to you, Atwood. Not that you need me to tell you, but you understand the world better than most.

Disclosure: I neither know Atwood (though I wish I did, and I do follow her on Twitter) nor was I paid for this post. 

Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

In my final trot through the zombie novel pumpkin patch, I finished “Warm Bodies,” a relatively new novel by Isaac Marion. In six months, it will be released as a movie of the same name. Here is my book review:

First off, as both of my readers know, I don’t give synopses of books I read. If you want to know what HAPPENS in a book, read the damn book. My reviews only tell what was good, what was bad, and if you should read the novel in the first place.

Marion’s portrait of zombies is not new. They are dead, or undead. They feed off humans, eat brains, and are generally pretty stupid beings that hunt in packs. The first person angle is not entirely new to this genre any longer either. I refer you to Joan Frances Turner’s “Dust“. Since “Warm Bodies” came out but a year later, I hold no negative here for Marion. Frankly, the first person zombie thing is still avant garde enough  to be highly entertaining when done correctly, which it is here.

“Warm Bodies” is much closer to a typical zombie story. The main zombie character is a twenty (or thirty)-something lazy guy who just shuffles through life until he eats the brain (thereby gaining the memories of) a young man in love. Enter love interest Stage Right.

I have a terrible feeling that the movie that debuts February of 2013 will be very much like “Twilight” with teenage puppy love and an angry dad leading to a Romeo and Juliet meets Shawn of the Dead plot. If so, I’ll be disappointed, but the vast majority of readers of this book won’t be.

The end concept (which I won’t spoil) is interesting. Given the direction the rest of the book, however, it was both predicable yet disappointingly necessary. For those seeking a Happily Ever After zombie story, this is your book. For those wanting a dreary apocalyptic world, move on.

Marion clearly understands both the zombie genre itself and the present obsession with paranormal love and sex. Part of me wants to hate this book for that very reason. Yet, when in Rome. Once he is discovered by the masses, Marion will explode onto the scene much the same way Meyer did with Twilight. This will be especially true if he has sequels in mind.

All his characters are very well fleshed out. It was a fast-paced read that does provide much for many a reader. If you want true zombie death and gore, it’s here. Of course, I might read “Dust” if that was your soul purpose. If you want something new to the zombie genre, you get love, first person goodness, and a Day of the Dead concept well done here. If you just want a good read irrespective of genre, this is also a great start. If you want another book like Twilight without the disturbing tween sex scenes, this again is your book.

Overall, I would read another book by Isaac Marion. It is clear we should expect great things from him in the future.

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