Book Pairings :: The Handmaid’s Tale

Just like a sommelier recommends the perfect wine for your meal, I am here to pair the ideal drink for your reading pleasure. Book Pairings is an unconventional book review that expresses my thoughts and feelings about a novel in terms of booze.

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The Book: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Booze: Red Wine. Any Red Wine.

Grab your red wine. Grab your red wine and hold it close, because there may be a day when all the simple pleasures in life are stripped from you. Every basic right you have—reading, writing, your own name—that you take for granted, can someday, in the not too distant future, be taken away. This is the fate that befalls the United States in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The distopian world left in its wake is that of the religious fundamentalist extreme. Women can no longer work or hold property, all carnal pleasures, such as sex, alcohol, and tobacco, are absolutely forbiddden, no one is allowed to read or write, money is no longer used, and an elaborate class system, distinguished by the color they wear, seperates those in power from those not even entitled a name. Our heroine, Offred, is the lowest of the low: a handmaid, who’s only purpose in life is to be a walking womb. Since no one’s allowed to have sex, someone has to be responsible for repopulation… other than old white men, of course. And because of her position, she is viewed as a whore and a savage, completely driven by physical appetite. It is amazing how the people of this new world have abandoned their sense of justice in order to selfishly protect themselves. But many, including Offred, remember their old lives and will try to reclaim it in their own ways.

Red is the color of the handmaids’ cloaks, the color that labels them a pariah, and red is the color of the wine you should savor while reading The Handmaid’s Tale. It doesn’t matter if it is a sweet pinot noir or a robust shiraz, if it’s been aged for centuries or a bottle of two-buck chuck you picked up at the supermarket this afternoon; it should be treated as a luxury no matter what. The handmaids go through their average day with only limited, pious interaction, but once in a blue moon, when one of them gives birth, they are allowed to congregate and speak freely among each other. Over a shared flask of wine, passed among the crowd, they can reminisce about the lost days and learn the whereabouts of missing friends and family. The wine is an important part of holding onto their identity.

Margaret Atwood’s novel is highly regarded as a feminist anthem, but it’s so much more than just that. It’s a beautifully written, and sometimes humorous, tale of perseverence, as well as a sobering reminder of what can eventually happen if we mix religion with politics and neglect the basic rights of all our citizens. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed this book! I was so lucky that a friend read it around the same time I did, becuse all I wanted to do was discuss the fate of the characters, draw parallels to today’s society, and argue whether we could muster sympathy towards those who created this world. Everyone needs to read The Handmaid’s Tale in their lifetime.

So raise a glass and toast to to those protecting the rights of women, both in real life and in The Handmaid’s Tale.

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I liked Gone Girl, Does that Make Me a Bad Feminist?

I had no intentions of seeing Gone Girl.

Really I didn’t.

I had no intentions of reading Gillian Flynn’s novel that flew from manicured hand to manicured hand of basic biddies across America.

To begin with, I’ve never been a fan of the modern crime thriller. Why would I want to read about made-up violence, misogyny, neglect, and lies when I see enough of it on the news? I walked out of Gone Baby Gone, and that’s right up the same vein, complete with the Ben Affleck. I also tend to avoid the trendy “beach read” since they always end up too one-dimensional to live up to my literary elitism. Then, a friend couldn’t even finish the book because every single character was so despicable. She said, and this is a direct quote posted on my facebook wall, “This book is horrible. Truly, honestly horrible. I like to believe that I live in a world full of good people, and this book made me more uncomfortable than any book has ever made me. I still don’t want to believe that people can be that awful!”

So as I said, I had no intentions of seeing David Fincher’s screen adaptation of Gone Girl.

I only went to see it last Friday because my boyfriend is a really big fan of Fincher. That and the internet promised me I would see Ben Affleck’s penis (Spoiler alert: Little Ben’s cameo was so quick and brief that I didn’t catch it. Neil Patrick Harris’s on the otherhand…). But yah, I was just a bit surprised that I left the theatre really, really liking it, even, GASP, wanting to read the book!

The funny thing is, the movie is a total MRA’s wetdream.

Yet another movie where bitches be cray.

Gillian Flynn, the author herself, wrote the screenplay, therefore I was expecting every character to hold on to the same depraved despicability that those who read the book talked about. I knew I wasn’t supposed to like Nick Dunne (Affleck); after all, he was a liar, a cheater, and he didn’t give a damn about Amy, except that she was there to look hot when he needed her. Why wouldn’t his wife resent that? Instead we have book Nick Dunne’s not-so-evil twin. Moments where Ben Affleck doesn’t paint an utterly sympathetic protagonist are far and few. Yes, he cheated on his wife with a barely-legal bimbo, but that’s ok because his wife is psycho. Sure, he is barely involved in Amy’s life, unable to name her friends or what she does with her time, but no problem because his wife is psycho. And what about how he can’t recall all the important memories and events of their relationship, whatever, remember folks, his wife is psycho. She shouldn’t have built him up to such high expectations in the first place. And while yes, she is in fact very psycho (various think-pieces argue to what extent), it sends the message that all women are irrational, overemotional, and will only raise the hoops that their husbands and boyfriends have to jump through higher and higher.

There’s nothing wrong with likeable characters. But please stop making me like the ones I would despise in real life! As great as Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were, the minor characters such as Kim Dickens as Detective Boney and Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne truly shined. But no one stole the show as much as Tyler Perry, as the defender of wife murderers everywhere, Tanner Bolt. I know it’s not that big a deal; there are witty, charismatic baddies everywhere in the media. They’re written to be likeable. But this just echoes “smalltown football player privilege” (#notallfootballplayers): if the star quarterback (or whatever because I don’t know shit about football) commits sexual assault, or, like in my wonderful town, gets drunk, hits a woman while peeling out of a parking lot, and drags her body for 3 miles down the highway, the entire town goes on the defense.

“But he was so popular, everybody liked him.”

“Yes he had a history of getting in fights and trashing the school dance that everyone worked hard to put together, but he was the life of the party; it was all in good fun.”

“He had such a bright future*, think of how this will affect him. We don’t want that to happen.”

*One that is based on being mediocre, but cruising on by thanks to charisma.

These pleas seem insane, right? But this is happening across the nation, and seeing fictional characters like this light up the big screen and warm their ways into the hearts of viewers just makes it more acceptable for these types of people to quite literally, get away with murder.

This is not a movie review. If it was, I would be saying go out and see Gone Girl immediately. There wasn’t a single actor in it who wasn’t amazing. And holy crap, the suspense was ever presence, even when peppered with tasteful comedic relief. The plot and characters are way more nuanced than I gave them credit for here. It’s almost a psychological/anthropological study into the nature of marriage. What worries me though, is that the majority of movie-goers aren’t there to delve into conversations about Nick’s rough childhood tarnishing his relationships, or Amy’s indignancy being fueled by her stubbornness to do anything about it. They’re there to be entertained, and leave the theatre thinking that wives are needy nags, who will do anything to chain down their husbands, and that it’s funny to hate on these women. That just doesn’t sit well with me.

Whatever. I’m going to go read the book now.