I read my first e-book, The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood, for my book club. I had recently read/re-read The Handmaid’s Tale, in hard copy, borrowed from the library, in preparation. It was high time I tried checking out an e-book, and now it’s the only way to check out a book, but I did it with some fumbling and trepidation. For the past couple of weeks, there are so many new sign-ins and passwords. I had to change my Facebook password, due to a recent surge of hacking. While some kinds of phone calls have stopped, I’m now being notified, in the voice of A.I., of lots of cash prizes I’ve won. The hackers and scammers have already discovered new opportunities and pounced on new vulnerable prey. That potential for doing harm and being harmed constant in humans is part of the plot of Testaments.
It was fascinating to re-encounter certain characters from The Handmaid’s Tale and meet the new ones. I appreciated the connections in structure between the two novels—testimony, academic lecture. And I heard the feminism, in waves, the sad wisdom, and both the awareness and lack of awareness in the young:
The Founders and the older Aunts had edges to them. They’d been moulded in an age before Gilead, they’d had struggles we had been spared, and these struggles had ground off the softness that might once have been there. But we hadn’t been forced to undergo such ordeals. We’d been protected, we hadn’t needed to deal with the harshness of the world at large. We were the beneficiaries of the sacrifices made by the forbears. We were constantly reminded of this and told to be grateful for the absence of an unknown quantity. I’m afraid we did not fully appreciate the extent to which those of Aunt Lydia’s generation had been hardened in the fire. They had a ruthlessness abut them that we lacked.
I appreciated the complexity of some of the characters, the gray areas in the thinking. Like the “grey market” (not black market) for desired commodities. While this novel lays out a parallel history to our own, and an alternate present and presumed future, it could not have anticipated the current coronavirus crisis. Yet there is fever, there is fake news. And the ending made me cry.