Did someone say fan fiction?

When She Woke - Hillary Jordan

I should note that I love both Handmaid’s Tale and The Scarlet Letter.  I LOVE them.


                It is telling that in her acknowledgements/thanks section at the end of the novel, Jordan does not mention The Scarlet Letter or the Handmaid’s Tale, both of which influenced this book.  To be fair to Jordon, the connection to Letter is obvious, and as far as I am aware of she has never denied the connection to either book.


                The problem for me is, and there really is no nice way to put this, this book reads like fan fiction of both novels.  It is as if it is almost trying to be more recent Handmaid’s Tale or a more timely/feminist version of the Scarlet Letter.


                The only thing that it does with any get success is remind the reader how great Letter and Tale are.

                Hannah is a young, religious woman who has gotten an illegal abortion.  She has been caught and faces a punishment that will turn her red.  The most interesting part of the book is the beginning where Hannah wakes up Red.  The rest of the book really doesn’t live up to this promise and the second half of the novel is quite, frankly, silly.


                In Hannah’s world, a dystopia US, criminals are chromed via a virus.  Different colors mean different crimes.  Blue, for instance, is child molestation.  And this brings us to the first and huge problem with this novel.  Well, outside the watered down version of good literature that it is.  The only instance that Hannah remembers of seeing a Blue is a Blue Chromed woman.  This ties into the fact that the majority of women in the novel from Hannah’s mother to various women Hannah meets are, in many cases, worse than the men.   While the Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, had Serena Joy, Offred was not without female friends.  It’s true that Hannah does gain women friends, but even as I type that word, I have to wonder.  Hannah’s relationships with Kayla is said to be one of friendship, but it does not have that feeling.  A good amount of space is devoted to convincing the reader that Hannah is better than Kayla.


                Hannah’s time at a half way house once she is released from the dentition center has shades of the Center from the Handmaid’s Tale, with the exception that Atwood did it a thousand times better.  Part of Hannah’s re-education or penance includes making a doll to represent her dead fetus, naming it, and talking about why she had an abortion.


                Of course, men are to blame for all of it.  For every single woman’s abortion.


                Which also is a problem.  If the women are evil, the men are weak or evil.  Hannah’s father, despite being the man of the house whose rule must be obeyed, is controlled by his wife who hates Hannah after the abortion.  Hannah dislikes the man who becomes her brother in law on sight, and of course, he beats Hannah’s sister who isn’t as pretty, intelligent, or tough as Hannah. 


In Handmaid’s Tale, the men were not one dimensional. 


              And then, Hannah decided to go on the run, and discovers that she is bisexual, and characters we meet, who are far more interesting than Hannah, disappear never to reappear again because Jordan wants an ending that is somewhat like Atwood’s but a little more positive.


                The problem is that it doesn’t work.  Hannah can’t be considers a good member of her church if she was also questioning everything about it since the first day of her life.  She goes from hating homosexuals to being bisexual in a blink of an eye.  Then goes back to being a good church member again.


                Part of the reason why the Handmaid’s Tale worked even though Offred was such a passive character was the Offred had a reason for the passiveness and the other characters made up for that tendency.  Jordan wants to have Hannah be both the rebel and the conservative and it doesn’t quite work. 


                Furthermore, all of Hannah’s events after she leaves jail feel like Jordan is going though some type of checklist that people believe mean you are feminist.  Abortion check, sexual discovery check, abusive man check.  Then she decides that perhaps she is being too anti-religion, so the second half of the book becomes more spiritual. It’s weird, and Hannah’s journey to regain a faith doesn’t feel like journey.


                It feels like a pat.  It is a nod to Letter, but Hawthorne did it a thousand times better.


                Do not waste your time with this book.  Read the originals instead.