“You up for this?,” asked author Margaret Atwood mischievously on Thursday’s Late Night With Seth Meyers when the host asked her to read his palm. Meyers was game, even though asking The author of The Handmaid’s Tale to predict the future seems like a recipe for unsettlingly prescient bad news. There to promote The Testaments, the new, long-awaited sequel to her legendary 1985 dystopian novel of right-wing misogynist oppression, the twinkly 79-year-old author indulged Meyers with what she termed “straight Renaissance palmistry”—and mostly good news. (Long life, not going to be president, “less stubborn” and “more stable” than people think—definitely could have been worse.)
Still, as Atwood told Meyers, the worst future one can possible imagine has a way of coming true. The author spoke about the enduring “second life” of The Handmaid’s Tale, which has been a movie, opera, graphic novel, ballet, global (if sometimes sputtering) TV phenomenon, and, as Atwood noted with some appreciation, a protest meme and costume for women’s rights all over the world. (She’s not so sure about the “sexy Handmaid” Halloween getup someone who missed the point has brought to market.) Claiming that she’d started writing The Testaments (about two young women and the terrifying Aunt Lydia giving their very different accounts of life in- and outside human rights graveyard Gilead) before the election of 2016 seemed to be setting America up as a Handmaid’s Tale prequel, Atwood did say that the rise of widely alleged sexual predator Donald Trump and a Vice President who won’t allow a woman to speak to him in private “put wind in [her] sails” as far as reentering the world of her most famous work.
“It encouraged me,” said the Canadian Atwood of the rise of evangelical assholery currently holding sway in America, and noting that, as (yet) farfetched as her post-sanity United States may seem, her rule in writing The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments was to never make up any form of subjugation, oppression, or evil that hasn’t actually occurred somewhere in the history of humans being really, really terrible to women. So that’s sobering. (She also noted impishly that, like one of the characters in The Testaments has done, Americans historically have fled to her native Toronto when things “go pear-shaped” down here.)