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Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Praise

“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)

Review

Vanessa and Janey two main voices in this island tale.
They both are the only ones with red hair, Janey is the toughest and she doesn’t go along with the ‘shall not’s’, not as much as every other daughter and son does.
The daughters plight, their standing and wanting for answers, a testament of naivety seeking wisdom, but a wisdom that is un-indoctrinated.
The first people to settle in the island, named ‘the Ancestors’ in this tale,they had left ways and a book of which commandments within are repeated in a chorus of ‘Shall not’s’ these all ooze a disquieting eeriness and the foundations of indoctrination.
The author deals with the telling well and has the reader along with some empathy to how they will break the chains of abuse, and there is ugly abuse in this tale, but it’s not so ugly presented in a fully descriptive way, it is there in a naive way vaguely pointed out at times, it’s the norm for the daughters unless and outsider can tell them otherwise. The author has layered her experience as a psychiatric practitioner dealing with traumatized children and given them a voice upon the page and show the reader just how they are betrayed, unknowingly exposed everyday to abuses and lies in order to have them institutionalized in a way to the islands system and the people’s control and darkness.
Jane a pillar of strength to the daughters, has her own sermons to wake them that all is not what it seems, without evidence she only has so many believe her, and when the elders detect the rebellious and the rebellion they are beaten and weakened and so as winter falls they no longer can hide out and try to live without their families.
Escape escape! The reader will be thinking but how will the daughters be free.
Book burning Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind reading this as does Handmaids tale.
With handmaids tale being revisited on the screen in a talked about tv adaptation this would serve as a great addition to the dystopia tales like that and of Fahrenheit 751.
Vanessa, Janey, Amanda, and Caitlin their realms you have a third eye view at, and it will stay with you as a stark warning as just how lives could be like for some daughters, these daughters memorable ones that will ruminate in the mind for some time. The author has done a great job in writing with lucid prose and communicate the minds of these “hearts at conflict with themselves”, (as William Faulkner once mentioned worth writing about) and the need for truth and so we have the cult life in the island children told that is it they are the future nearly all have fallen. The ugliness within may have readers feel unpleasant but the shocking headlines from around the world have contained these crimes.



“After the shalt-nots, the collection plate is passed, and the needle. Father has it in his lap and is sucking blood off his finger. You don’t have to do it until you reach fruition, but Vanessa, always precocious, started when she was eight. She carefully takes the needle, inserts it into the pad of her finger, and squeezes a drop into the red, gelatinous puddle. Afterward, the clotted blood will be poured over a crop field that’s struggling. To Vanessa, whose family has never had to farm, the crop fields are huge holes all waste goes into: animal dung, human dung, blood, dead bodies. She tries not to think about the fact that her food comes out of those holes as well.”

“There’s always at least one wanderer’s wife at a birthing, and despite Vanessa’s protests, Mother drags her along to a few every year. The small wooden birthing building—which holds up to three laboring women at a time, just in case—is crammed full of daughters, brought to learn about their future tribulations.”

“That’s not fair. That’s like…like telling me I can have anything I want to eat and then only letting me pick from three boring things I’ve already had a hundred times.”

“Fighting makes Janey feel alive in a way that nothing else does: not hovering alone in the black night with her whirling thoughts as company; not running until her heart heaves and her lungs turn to silver, glowing and intractable; not cradling Mary in her arms as she stares at a star-smeared night sky, knowing she will watch them wheel in their slow path until morning. Fighting makes Janey’s blood sing. It’s not the promise of harming others, for she rarely intends genuine injury, nor is it the prospect of revenge on her enemies, as Janey has few enemies she takes seriously. It is something about the heat in the contraction of a muscle, the speed and split-second calculations, the impact of intimate physical contact when, apart from young children and Mary, she lets nobody touch her. Deeper in her is the realization she avoids: it is the only time in her life when the violence of her thoughts are made flesh. She screams, thrashes, lunges as her mind goes still, as her fists and teeth and nails become a churning mass illuminating the turbulence within.”

“As she paces, she snatches at the floating pieces in her mind, trying to make a structure that stands. The wanderers. The water. Amanda. The wastelands. Mary. The shalt-nots. Every time she tries to create an integral pattern, a clear picture, it shatters and falls into mist. But her will is ever-flowing, unquenched. If she thinks hard enough, she can solve this puzzle. She can solve everything.”

“Despite the strangeness of what Janey said, and all the unanswered questions, the girls walk a little bit taller for the next week or so. They feel a little more satisfied leaving the dinner table. They know something. Or, at least, they might know something. Slowly, the doubters begin to believe in other islands, simply to have something new to believe. Something dark and mysterious, something exciting. Something forbidden.”

“Marks from the beatings become badges of honor. The girls compare injuries, competing for the deepest-black bruise, the grisliest swellings, the most blood dried to crackling brown on their faces.”

 

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 31 July 2017