MixedThe New York Review of BooksOne of the things that Margaret Atwood accomplishes in The Testaments...is enlarging our perspective by focusing on the aftermath of assault. This engaging sequel...tempers the first novel’s grim vision ... What The Testaments proves—reassuringly—is that Gilead’s hegemony was not just incomplete but flawed from its inception: someone was always in fact keeping an eye on the Eye. The horror of the Handmaids’ suffering, which in The Handmaid’s Tale was somehow both sanctioned and ignored, is somewhat mitigated by the revelation that it was always being witnessed ... The Testaments is a text that believes, quite strongly, that dossiers showing wrongdoing by the power brokers matter. Its premise is that if the truth is recorded, exposed, and circulated, consequences will be meted out and power will crumble ... This strikes me as an anemic optimism. If Me Too (not to mention impeachment) has taught us anything, it is that testimony does not dislodge power. We careen from outrage to outrage in a rollicking attention-deficit economy that most perpetrators are able to outwait or outshout. And even when they don’t, no one can agree on how revelations about past abuse should affect the offender’s long-term treatment. Soon enough, they return, and rarely are they much resisted.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe Question Authority takes on the ungainly problem of pubescent desire and friendship—and, in a roundabout way, guilt ... Glimmering around the edges of this gaunt and lonely novel is the hope that Nora and Beth can reconcile thanks to the shared past that also divided them ... It’s a confusing kaleidoscope of perspectives until you realize, alongside Nora, that Beth isn’t viewing the episode as if over a chasm of thirty-nine years ... This is, in other words, less a story about victim and abuser than of how a formative friendship failed to survive the abuser’s interference. In Cline’s hands, it’s also a story toggling between self-righteousness and self-doubt ... The conventional wisdom is that thirteen-year-olds’ crushes on teachers do not amount to consent. But that’s a legal view, not a survivor’s, and The Question Authority gets weaker the closer it hews to a legal rather than an interpersonal perspective ... The Question Authority is a hunt for a narrative—an authority, even—that permits a person to feel autonomous and at peace with herself ... hope. That might not be the precise word for what...Cline’s imaginative efforts evoke, but I’m grateful for their deep involvement within these awful constraints.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksWhat I have found myself hungering for...is literature that stretches past legal testimonies and sentimental appeals toward what, for lack of a better phrase, I’m calling post-traumatic futurity. What is the situation of survivors who saw the injury proven and exposed—and maybe even punished—and saw, also, that nothing much changed? I am curious about their vision of things. I want to know how they think things should be. In nonfiction ... In fiction, we have books like Miriam Toews’s Women Talking and Rachel Cline’s The Question Authority. Both novels are fictional treatments of real events, both scramble the stultifying formulas we apply to stories of abuse, and both stretch out into subjectivities that feel—if not always hopeful or clear—singular and anchored in the world as we know it ... Sexual abuse also isolates the victim, this too by design. What’s striking about Women Talking is both how clearly the scale of the assaults enables unexpectedly communal discussions of a post-traumatic future and how hard it is to reach a consensus ... If Toews clarifies the smallness of the world these women inhabit, their radicalism sometimes far exceeds our own ... Revelations snowball over the course of the deliberations ... But the novel ends on a note of terrifying hope so pure and desperate and idealistic that it’s almost unbearable. The humility of the novel’s title belies the extraordinary ambition of its characters, who, reeling from trauma, sit, talk, and chart out a future within two days.