Monday, February 28, 2011

An Unrealistic Dystopian Novel?

There has been a lot of talk lately about dystopian novels. Lucky me because that is one of my all-time favorite genres. Unfortunately, one of my favorites within that genre, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, has come under fire by a lot of my friends during many of our discussions. Not by everyone, but by some. I’ve found it’s a love it or hate it kind of book.
Now, if they don’t like the book then they don’t like the book. I can’t change that. However I do have a tendency to a little personally offended when one of my favorite books is on the attack. It’s a flaw of mine, but then it does lead me to some good post topics, so it can’t be all bad!
Maybe they don’t like the way the plot develops or the style of Atwood’s writing. I could perfectly understand those points (and I have come across those people as well). However, one of the reasons I’ve heard for some of their dislike is…well a bit odd to say the least. How do I put this? They find the premise unrealistic. Um, it’s a dystopian novel. It’s supposed to be about a futuristic society. There are dystopian novels about ZOMBIES for crying out loud people. ZOMBIES! But this one, a dystopian novel where the United States has been overthrown and women are basically used solely for the service of men (it’s literally a feminist’s worst nightmare), is the unrealistic book? I cannot for the life of me think of any future that could possibly lead to being at war with zombies, yet I still think that would be a fun book to read.

But let’s continue with this “unrealistic premise” idea. Because it is true that at the core of most dystopian novels the point is that they’re making a statement about our current society. Then you take that statement and you push it to the extreme. But to say it has no basis at all in reality missing the mark. I mean, if it’s not what am I doing with this blog? I must be missing my pair of rose-colored glasses for sure. Wasn’t it about three years ago that Senator Clinton was giving a speech and some guy held up a sign asking her to “Iron My Shirt?” She was running for President at the time but still the sexist remarks came. And not just by college jerks that I think did it to win a radio contest or something, other politicians and pundits were no better, more subtle sure, but no better. Sarah Palin got it too. Sexists jokes and remarks are so prevalent that so much of the time people are unaware of how they are even being offensive. And have you read a book by “renowned” author Philip Roth? Yuck! The misogynism literally drips off the page. And he’s won about every literature award under the sun. Hooray! While Roe v. Wade is still in place today, politicians are trying every day to overturn it and who knows what is going to happen in the years to come. Some pharmacists won't even give you your own birth control prescriptions because it goes against their conscience (which is all fine and dandy until you think about the poor woman who lives in the middle of nowhere and only has access to one pharmacy within 70 miles or so, she can't just go to the other Walgreens down the block).

But I guess it’s still ridiculous to imagine a dystopian novel in which a sexist world (way way way way way in the future) has taken over. And I'll stop now before this post turns into a full-on feminist rant. Bring on the Zombie War!

14 comments:

Stephanie M. Hasty said...

who doesn't like this book? i am aghast!
then again, some people just don't like dystopic literature...i have the joy of teaching a whole unit full of my favorites! :)

Red said...

I'm with you. I can understand someone not liking the book because of the style or tone but because they don't find it realistic? Really? That almost feels like a cop-out reason. Maybe they were uncomfortable with the subject but rather than saying that, they said they couldn't believe something like the plot could happen.

By the way, World War Z is a pretty great dystopian novel. It doesn't necessarily have the deeper meaning behind it, but it's an interesting look at how the geopolitical world would function in the face of an apocalypse.

llevinso said...

@Stephanie, I was surprised at first too because it's a huge favorite of mine, but they're out there. And frankly it really does seem to be a 50/50 split.

@Red, I really do want to read World War Z. It's on my TBR. I've never read any sort of book like that before though so we'll see how it goes. I was just pointing out how funny it was that Handmaid's Tale was the dystopian pointed to as "unrealistic" when there are others like that one.

Red said...

Gotchya! I do have to say I think WWZ comes off as more realistic than Handmaid's Tale (I know, crazy) only because it starts from the beginning of the zombie uprising, where Handmaid's Tale drops you right in. Maybe if there was a little more origin to the change the world would be easier to swallow.

llevinso said...

Well I could see that argument if it dealt with anything ASIDE from zombies. And yes, Handmaid's Tale does just plop you down right in the middle of things, but as the story goes you learn more and more about how things came to be the way they did, which is a common storytelling technique. It's not like Atwood is the only author to use that device. So it isn't as if you never learn why this dystopia came to be.

Maybe that's what annoys some people? They don't learn it all right up front?

Red said...

I think maybe learning about it throughout the book means it takes longer to grapple with what's happened, and since I honestly think what happens in Handmaid is more upsetting than WWZ, it's harder to come to grips with it. I remember while reading it asking "but HOW did things get like this?" and you do learn it over the course of the book, but perhaps thoughts are already formed by that point?

llevinso said...

Very true. Like I said, it is literally a feminist's worst nightmare. And even if you don't identify as a feminist it could be your worst nightmare. So I can see the urge to say to oneself "there is NO WAY this could ever ever happen."

By the way, I'm really loving having this conversation with you! And it's making me want to pick up WWZ even more :)

Red said...

I love when comments become discussions and I'm glad you're enjoying it and aren't like "who is this chick and when will she quit commenting?"

If you are interested I have a couple posts about WWZ on my blog. It's a really great read although I had zombie nightmares the whole time I was reading it.
It goes by many names...
Who in their right mind...
Couldn\'t just one...

llevinso said...

That last post is pretty funny!

And I'm not THAT caught up in the whole zombie craze. Although I did love the movie Zombieland. But I can't stand those books where they just add in zombies to classics. And I've never seen The Walking Dead, but I heard it was quite good. But your posts make me want to read WWZ even more.

Jennifer O. said...

I've never read this book, but I'm almost positive I'll love it when I do. I've heard so many good things by people whose opinion I respect.

I'm so glad you mentioned the Iron My Shirt fiasco, because I was just thinking about it the other day. The fact that the male opposition never came to her defense (not that she needed them to), really pissed me off.

The election of 2008 just made me despise american politics. I was in a very bad mood for the next couple of years.

jennifer said...

I bought this a couple of weeks ago for my Kobo. I was planning on continuing along with the Stieg Larsson books, but I think I might take a break with some Zombies, first!

llevinso said...

@Jenny, I know, that whole election drove me crazy. And I'm no fan of Sarah Palin or her politics but the sexual comments aimed at her were horrid as well.

@jennifer, let me know what you think of WWZ if you get a chance to read it. I probably won't get a chance to for quite some time. So many other books are on my TBR pile ahead of it.

Kathmeista said...

Great post!! What on earth is an unrealistic dystopian novel?! And you're right, this premise isn't so horribly far-fetched. Helen Clark was the Prime Minister of NZ for 9 years whilst I was still there and she got all sorts of flak from all sorts of sexist idiots who called her ugly, a lesbian, an overbearing auntie and more. Like any of these things had anything to do with the fact that she was an extremely competent political leader who did good things for NZ. She wasn't perfect of course but which politician is. And OH the fuss and bother about the fact she chose to have a career rather than kids.

To pick up on something else you said - surely it's not possible that women can be denied birth control due to a physician/pharmacist's moral view point? Lordy. That's really something.

There has been great progress made it is true but not nearly enough and blogs like yours are bringing this issue back into the spotlight. Thanks. You're awesome.

llevinso said...

Thanks Kathmeista! I don't know much about Helen Clark, or NZ for that matter. I'll have to do some research. I love finding out new things like this. Thanks for the info!