Book Review: Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed
Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed
Gather the Daughters
By Jennie Melamed
Little, Brown and Company
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

I know it’s mostly my fault for having a mediocre reaction to the mostly loved Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed; and that’s because I read too many of these kinds of books during the Bush administration in the early-aughts, novels that posit in one way or another that an American apocalypse would for some reason bring about a new national society of Amish people, a subject that was used so many hundreds of times between 9/11 and Obama’s presidency that I even came up with a term back then, “Bushist literature,” to describe the phenomenon.

Gather the Daughters is yet another one of these, and unfortunately doesn’t do too much to set itself apart from the others; a sort of mashup of The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, The Village, and James Howard Kunstler’s Bushism ur-example World Made By Hand, its central premise is that a group of Westboro-like extreme conservative Christians manage to take over a private island just before the US is blown into smithereens, and in the resulting generations of being left alone have formed an insular society that is King James Bible meets complete patriarchy meets the Taliban, in which the women-folk exist entirely and exclusively to poop out babies and please the man they’ve been assigned to, and are then encouraged to commit suicide once they hit menopause.

I’m not opposed to these kinds of stories per se — almost 35 years later, The Handmaid’s Tale is still rightly being read and loved by millions of new people every single year — but if in the 2010s you’re going to take on a story trope that’s been done so many times already by now, you better either bring something new to the table or do the expected extremely well; and unfortunately Melamed does neither of these things, turning in a manuscript that often sounds like the following made-up example, not an actual quote from the book but that might as well be…

Today in the wastelands I came across a Sacred Parchment by the prophet Roxane Gay; but Blessed Father informed me that she is a Harlot of Evil, and that I should ignore her wicked lessons on Female Empowerment and Thinking For Yourself.

I of course slightly exaggerate for humorous effect; but Melamed’s real prose actually sounds suspiciously like this jokey example, an overwrought and too-obvious style that sounds at all times like everyone is constantly talking in Capitalized Words about Things You And I Take For Granted but that have taken on Ironically Mythic Proportions For The Sake Of Easy Metaphor among their crypto-Shaker society of calico skirts and butter-churning.

#JennieMelamed's #GatherTheDaughters is a #HandmaidsTale copycat and a bit of a hackneyed mess Click To Tweet

That unfortunately is not enough to elevate this book above the literally dozens of better examples from just the last 15 years of contemporary publishing; and while Melamed’s heart is absolutely in the right place, that doesn’t stop Gather the Daughters from being a bit of a hackneyed mess. Certainly worth your time if you’ve never read these kinds of books before — from all the glowing reviews at Goodreads.com, it’s obvious that most people who read it liked it profoundly more than me — you’re nonetheless bound to be disappointed if you’re already a fan and heavy reader of apocalyptic fiction, especially from urban liberal authors who are trying to make a political point about how backwards rural conservatives are. As an urban liberal myself, I agree with that sentiment, but that doesn’t mean I want to sit through 300 pages of “thee”s and “thou”s to be lectured on something I already know. Buyer beware.

Out of 10: 7.3

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Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd