Saturday, February 18, 2006

Margaret Atwood's

In the world of the near future, who will control women's bodies?

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now....

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

Atwood both stuns and captivates the reader's attention. This shocking tale explains the consequences of religious extremism gone too far. This book challenges views on traditional religion and makes one realize the importance of freedom of religion.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
by Peter Hedges

Set in Eudora, Iowa ("population 1091 and dwindling") 24-year-old Gilbert Grape has taken upon himself the responsibility of his wacky family after the suicide of his father. Since his father's death, all his enormous mother does it eat. She has grown to the size of a small whale and never leaves the sofa where she sits and eats day after day. The floorboards under where Mama sits are weakening causing Gilbert to install extra support to be built to keep the floor from caving in. It's as if she wants to commit suicide with food and cigarettes. His older sister, Amy, still hasn't gotten over the death of Elvis while his younger sister, is hooked on make-up-boys and Jesus. The main event of the book is the upcoming birthday of Gilbert's retarded younger brother, Arnie who is as sweet as can be one moment and a holy terror the next. His special interest is running away and climbing the town water tower.

Sheila Riley of Smithsonian Inst. Libs writes: "Gilbert is saved by a beautiful and strange girl who startles him into life. That such a creature would take an interest in an apparent loser like Gilbert requires the reader's willing suspension of disbelief; but with such appealingly funny writing, one is only too happy to oblige. Highly recommended for fiction collections." I couldn't agree more. This was a delightful story, with a sort of sad ending, but also heartwarming at the same time. As one reviewer put it, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a novel that will remain long after the pages are closed."

Note: The movie version starring Johnny Depp is just as good as the book, and not only because I am a big Johnny Depp fan. :-)