When I was much younger, my mother was my source for literature. She was my internet, albeit a far more learned and well-read source than most of the ones I encounter virtually. She introduced me to science fiction, Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. And even when my own tastes formed and I started branching away from what I considered her safer, more by-the-numbers interests, I never stopped respecting her opinions, as they were informed and well-expressed. I have, in fact, tried to live my life in a similar fashion.
So when I finally decided to give Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" a chance, I found myself struggling with that respect in the worst sort of post-mortem way.
"What the hell, Mom?" I said to her memory. "Were you drunk?"
Realizing that was a horrible thing to ask a diabetic even if she's no longer among the living, I retracted that question and instead said, "Dude, seriously?" because nothing thrilled my mother more than being addressed as "Dude."
In fact, she loved it so much she appeared in my family room seconds after I said it.
"What's your problem?" she said.
"Nice to see you, too." I held up the copy of "The Handmaid's Tale" I'd borrowed from work and shook it in her direction. "But since you asked, this is my problem. Excuse my Swahili, but what the hell were you thinking?"
"You didn't care for it, I presume?" My mother's eyebrows were always thin and fine, yet somehow they became darker and bushier when she raised them in disdain.
"You presume correctly, Doctor Nadeau. You talked this book up throughout my teen years, made me think it was an untouchable, brilliant masterpiece of social commentary, and--"
"And I'd like to know if you were still in the process of getting your meds adjusted at the time."
She crossed her arms and sighed. "You know damn well I never took anything except Insulin and pain meds later on in life."
Nodding, I said, "Which brings us to the real issue, then. I mean, I know we disagreed on matters of taste when I got older. You kind've settled into a comfort zone, most likely due to your health issues and all."
She shrugged. "Probably a safe assessment. I always said you should have gone into psycho-analysis."
"One shrink in the family was enough. But my point is, setting aside the clearly intriguing concept, this is one of the dullest books I've read in years."
"All right." She uncrossed her arms and took a seat across from me. "Why?"
I sat as well. "For starters, the writing is bland and self-conscious."
"How much of it did you actually read?"
"I got through the first two chapters."
A heavy sigh. "Christopher,is it possible you'd like it more if you stuck with it?"
"Yes. It's also possible I could learn to like electrocution if I keep my feet dunked in water."
At this point, her image shimmered as if someone had flicked the lights off and on. I asked her if she was okay and she smiled. "What else didn't you like about it?"
I went into greater detail then. I told her how even though it accomplished the requisite task of establishing its universe early on, it never felt genuine. It felt, in fact, like a preachy commentary piee with a thinly disguised parable as its artful dodge. I concluded with the fact that the entire concept is wrapped in a cozy cocoon of white middle class feminism that presumes only gender divides stand between people and freedom.
"Okay, fair enough," she said. "But are you sure it's the book you're upset about or is it the fact that you're disappointed in my praise of it?"
I dropped the book onto the floor and stomped on it twice. "The book."
She grinned, telling me I hadn't lost my flair for the dramatic. "It's okay that you didn't care for it. If I taught you nothing else, I hope it was to develop your own tastes and be able to defend them. You've done that. So, why am I here?"
"Isn't it obvious? It's been years since I've had the opportunity to berate you. I've missed it."
She smiled that smile I can only recall in spontaneous memories or maybe sometimes find in an old photograph and said, "I miss you, too."
I watched her shimmer again, this time fading a bit. Our time was nearly up, then. "I love you, Mom."
"I love you, too, sweetie."
"Book still sucked, though."
And as she faded, I'm not entirely sure, but I think she flipped me off~