If Gather the Daughters is a next generation Handmaid’s Tale then it’s fitting to say that the children of Melamed’s cult island represent the likely outcome of Gilead’s handmaids bearing children.
In 1985 Margaret Atwood speculated a world in which the project of feminism has been rolled back categorically in the West, mirroring cultures that have dominated the globe for at least 2000 years. Gilead, an allegorical reflection of the US, strips away the rights of women, and creates a nightmare dystopia for its citizens. A story that is not out of place in 2018 America.
Thirty years later Jennie Melamed imagines a world in which this campaign has taken root. On an unnamed island a religious cult led by a misogynistic cabal of so named ‘ancestors’ have manufactured a, not too unfamiliar, society in which men subjugate women. Daughters are forced to marry when they reach their “summer of fruition”. They follow a strict doctrine of
‘shalt nots’ that permeate every aspect of life, shrinking the possibilities of existence to work, prayer, and obedience. They pay fealty to their ancestors in every act. Every thought, feeling, and human relationship are meticulously moulded to ensure absolute compliance. ‘Defective’ children, brought on by generations of inbreeding, are discarded.
Every summer the girls run wild, and as every winter deepens the inevitability of a life of inexorable slavery dawns.
Melamed is utterly unambiguous. She has crafted, through the voices of three girls and one ‘woman’, a story that documents the mechanisms of patriarchy and she follows, unflinchingly and at times devastatingly, that culture to its logical conclusion. The girls of the island are systematically sexually abused by their fathers within the confines of both their houses and their religious upbringing. The mothers look on, and make the dinners.
This is a harrowing account that explicitly mirrors contemporary society, a world mired and stunted by open secrets, and suffocating dogma. More literary realism than, dystopian speculation. At times the narrative is relentless in its scrutiny, but it is the smoldering rage and agonizing vitality of the voices that relay these girls’ stories that rescues the reader from
In every regime there is the hope of rebellion, in every rebellion a declaration of life.
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