Dear Margaret Atwood
Where do I begin?
No, seriously. I don’t know where to begin. You have brought me so much reading joy over the past twenty-odd years, even if at times the subject matter of your books has been harrowing, disturbing, insightful but most of all, instilled with the hope that humanity – despite everything it does to itself – prevails. You always give a voice to ‘the other’, and as a young gay guy when first reading your stories I felt in some way that my fears were being voiced as well.
I was introduced to your work by my older sister, and I now think everybody should have an older sister with the taste enough to give them their first exposure to your backlist. She handed me her copy of The Handmaid’s Tale and said, “You should read this. I know you’ll like it.”
When they say books can transport you to another world, I think it takes a special kind of author to not only take you into that world but totally immerse you in it so that you feel what the character feels and it is so realistic that it is like you’re Mary Poppins stepping into one of Cockney Bert’s paintings. That’s what The Handmaid’s Tale did to me. What made it so compelling was that it was a dystopian world that I could believe was only a few steps away from our own, and it has not lost its potency over the years – if anything, it has become even more relevant when the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney are vying for U.S. presidency. If our own world has a female presidential candidate who votes against contraception and abortion, and thinks that gays can be ‘cured’ by endorsing her husband’s speeches when he says things like “we have to understand that barbarians need to be educated and need to be disciplined” – well suddenly your world, where women are stripped of their power over their own bodies and turned into baby factories and undesirables like the gays are shipped out into the radioactive wastelands thanks to the fundamentalist government of Gilead, doesn’t seem so much fiction but a potential memoir of a woman in the not-so-far-off future.
People who love books often have a few that they will test against friends, family and even partners, and it will often have an effect on how they judge their relationship with them. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of mine, and even just recently it led to quite a bitter disagreement with my friend of over twenty years when I finally got her to read it. She now has two strikes against her name, thanks to a 15 year argument over Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. If I ever get her to read Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and there is a negative reaction I don’t think anything can save our friendship.
I would just like to close that even though your books are powerful in their analysis of the frailty and sometimes evil nature of the human race, they still contain the very essence of our spirit, that makes us fight on no matter what and that there must be something worth saving about us. Whether it’s Elaine fending off her childhood bullies in Cat’s Eye or Snowman traversing the environmental catastrophe our earth has become in The Year of the Flood, there is always hope. And that’s what I always carry away from your books, when I’m thrown back out into the ‘real’ world from the pages, gasping for air, and knowing that it is because of books like yours that reading is as necessary as breathing.
I have a signed copy of Alias Grace that I bought on eBay. Sometimes I am fanboyish enough to trace the letters you wrote in your own hand, wishing that just a fraction of your talent would pass into me via osmosis. If I ever meet you, I may just fall at your feet in an incoherent mess. You can step over me, but please don’t call the cops.
The blog crawl continues! Up next is SmexyBooks.