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Gather the Daughters: A Novel Hardcover – July 25, 2017
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"A spooky, sure-footed debut...It's a provocative, dystopian page-turner about patriarchy run amok-just the thing to tide you over until the next season of The Handmaid's Tale."―People
"Gather the Daughters shares a genetic code with Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale."―New York Times Book Review
"Melamed hasn't written a simple didactic dystopia; her island is more brutal but also more hopeful than the usual brave new world - if only the four girls facing its horrific rituals can learn the truth in time."―New York Magazine
"Lyrical and ferocious, Jennie Melamed's Gather the Daughters follows the young daughters of an isolated society who start to question the truths of their world. Melamed paints the joys and anxieties of girlhood with visceral force as the puzzle deepens and consequences multiply. An heir to the speculative creations of Margaret Atwood and Shirley Jackson, Gather the Daughters is a darkly compelling read."―Helene Wecker, New York Times bestselling author of The Golem and the Jinni
"Set on an enchanted island where magic is replaced by Freudian nightmare, Gather the Daughters is an eerie, claustrophobic tale in the spirit of Shakespeare's The Tempest and Grimm's fairy tales. In her extraordinary first novel, Melamed pulls no punches. The young girls in this story are both victims of violence and perpetrators of it. They are survivors and warriors. Forget your conventional coming-of-age morality tales--this book is about the gory transition from girlhood to womanhood and how difficult it is to balance animal instinct with the pragmatism of endurance. A gripping and elegantly-crafted read."
―Joshua Gaylord, author of When We Were Animals
"In Gather the Daughters, girls and women face a world that is brutal, insidious, and unjust--and yet, hope and resilience persist. This is a lush, vivid and chilling novel. A remarkable debut."―Edan Lepucki, author of California and Woman No. 17
"Compulsive and suspenseful.... This beautifully and carefully constructed work pulls no punches in its depiction of a bleak future; it will attract fans of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and readers who enjoy horror, suspense, and dystopian fiction."
―Library Journal (starred review)
"An intriguing, gorgeously realized and written novel which inexorably draws you into its dark heart."
―Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat
"Melamed is a masterful writer, and she establishes a hauntingly vivid atmosphere.... This is a haunting work in the spirit of The Handmaid's Tale--but Melamed more than holds her own. Hopefully, her debut is a harbinger of more to come. Fearsome, vivid, and raw: Melamed's work describes a world of indoctrination and revolt."
―Kirkus (starred review)
"Melamed's haunting and powerful debut blazes a fresh path in the tradition of classic dystopian works...a searing portrayal of a utopian society gone wrong...Melamed's prose is taut and precise. Her nuanced characters and honest examination of the crueler sides of human nature establish her as a formidable author in the vein of Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Jennie Melamed is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who specializes in working with traumatized children. During her doctoral work at the University of Washington, she investigated anthropological, biological, and cultural aspects of child sexual abuse. Jennie lives in Seattle with her husband and their two dogs.
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“When a daughter submits to her father’s will, when a wife submits to her husband, when a woman is a helper to a man, we are worshipping the ancestors and their vision.”
So…jumping right into patriarchal doctrine! Still, Melamed is wise and builds the tension in Gather the Daughters slowly. The heavy-handed religion is not too surprising, given the apparent sinfulness of the previous world. The first half of the novel is fascinating backstory about the island and its inhabitants. Creepy and weird, definitely, but Melamed holds off a little bit longer until the novel’s halfway point when she reveals the real foundations of this society. (I don’t consider sharing this a spoiler because it does not change the novel’s plot. But, if you like less-is-more book reviews, then suffice to say I recommend Gather the Daughters as great, escapist, dystopian reading. If you want more of my thoughts, read on!)
It’s been a long time since I read a novel that made me recoil, but, without violence or gore Melamed strikes at a visceral level. The island is built on societally mandated incest against little girls. It is one of the ancestors' laws that from the time they are a small child every father is to have sex with their daughter. It’s difficult to even write this in the context of the novel because the correct terminology is rape. Unremitting rape, every night until the girl menstruates at which point she is handed off to a husband to breed. I can’t over-explain how repugnant reading this was because Melamed insinuates it so carefully into the plot. There are no overt scenes of violence, no disgust from any character. We learn everything through the three girls: Vanessa, Caitlin and Janey. Vanessa, whose father holds such an important position that she has access to books, something none of her friends have. Caitlin, who is newer to the island and its ways when she sees something she was not supposed to see. And seventeen-year-old Janey, who has determined that she will never grow up and so has been starving herself to avoid maturing. These girls are several generations in so there is no terror or revulsion, just resignation…because this is how things have always been.
Gather the Daughters is a novel built for discussion and lots of it. Not just about the morally reprehensible aspects of a fundamentalist, patriarchal society, but about the larger theme of repression in all its forms. The island exists thanks to ignorance. A systemic, multi-generational effort to root out and destroy any kind of knowledge or individual thought. Only the wanderers, the men who leave the island and go back to the wasteland, have any control. Whether there is anything out there or not is not questioned. For the modern day reader there will be nothing but questions, mostly because the only other option is complete disbelief. Well done, Melamed.
Her husband queried, "Why did you cut the end of the ham off?"
"Because," the wife replied, "that's how Mom always did it."
The husband suggested, "You should ask your mom why."
So, when her folks arrived for dinner the young wife asked, "Mom, why do you cut the end of the ham off?" "Because," the mother replied, " otherwise it wouldn't fit into my roasting pan."
We are sometimes slaves to tradition, chanting 'it's always been done that way.' We do not consider the reasons behind received wisdom and the custom of the country. When tradition has the church or government behind it, there is even less reason to question its validity.
Once in a while, a rare mind arises that sees another possibility, a higher moral order; someone sensitive to the lives of individuals caught in a crushing system. They preach, they lead, they stand up against the system, and engender a new vision of how things can be.
First, someone has to question why we do things the way we do.
Presented for your consideration:
An island with a small separatist society, refugees from a violent world consumed by war and fire.
They have inherited a faith and laws from their founders. Like other tribal societies, their strict rules make their survival possible. There shall be no more than two children per family. When adults become superfluous they drink the potion. Dutiful wives and daughters are the foundation of society. Wives must submit to their husband, daughters their father.
The daughters hate their lives. They dream of escaping their father's caresses, the early marriages, the horror of childbirth too often resulting in 'bleeding out' or delivering a mutant child. They wish they could enjoy their childhood summers of wild freedom forever.
One girl resists, inciting a rebellion and setting off a chain of events that brings retribution and reveals horrifying secrets.
Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed is a hard novel to read. The cult is so despicable and perverse, I was conflicted by what I was reading and physically felt stressed. The author is a psychiatric nurse practitioner specializing in traumatized children and child sexual abuse. She knows what she is portraying in the novel. And she does it very well.
The novel was also compelling, with sympathetic characters and enough mystery to keep me turning pages. Without graphic descriptions, the author subtly implies the girl's hated realities.
When I finished I asked what did the novel offer to redeem the horror I felt as reading? Why would someone read this book? What can it teach me?
And I remembered the sermon illustration I'd heard long ago about the ham and the daughter imitating without understanding.
This dystopian novel is a warning.
Everything we do because it's the way people do things can be reconsidered. The Protestant Reformation, the American Revolution, votes for women, Civil Rights--these movements all arose because a few people questioned and challenged the established order.
But also we should consider the 'little' things we do. How we spend our time or our money. We buy a product without considering its human cost or environmental impact. We allow advertising to drive our purchase choices.
I won't soon forget these brave daughters willing to fight for dignity and wholeness. May they inspire us all.
Jennie Melamed lives with two Shiba Inus. I approve. I have two myself.
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.