Like a True Sociopath

by Jack Downey '23
A&E Co-Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Like a True Sociopath

Book Review: Confessions of a Sociopath

By Tully Mahoney ’23

Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas is an eye-opening book that sheds light on the reality of sociopathy from the perspective of a clinically-diagnosed sociopath. 

Hollywood often depicts sociopaths as stone-cold killers who lack the ability to blend into society. In her memoir, Thomas challenges those stereotypes: she details her life as a successful law attorney, a devout Mormon, and an appreciated sister.

Thomas is incredibly candid about her attempts to conceal her sense that she was abnormal throughout her early life as well as how she felt like a social outcast until she was properly diagnosed with sociopathy in college. She explains how although she felt very alone, 1 percent of the population, 4 percent of corporate America, and possibly more than 10 percent of Wall Street employees are camouflaged sociopaths. After learning these facts, many readers will not only be surprised, but also perhaps even be prompted to look deeper within their own natures and those of their family, friends, and coworkers. 

Despite Confessions of a Sociopath’s allure, however, the book is not without its faults. On multiple occasions in the memoir, Thomas explicitly states that she aims to provide a firsthand account of a true sociopath’s life. With this in mind, readers might expect an honest, unfiltered account of all her secrets, yet when she discusses exploiting people for her own benefit, she holds out on readers, writing, “I wish I could tell stories of ruining people, but they’re the stories most likely to get me sued—situations that involved the police and restraining orders and professional lives derailed.” Since Thomas previously claims—at multiple moments —that she will provide a fully-disclosed account of her life, her failure to do so with regard to her treatment of other people cheapens her memoir. It is important to note, however, that Thomas does uphold her promise in the book as it pertains to other, less salacious areas of her life.

Another issue with Confessions of a Sociopath is that although the memoir is altogether captivating from beginning to end, there are periods where Thomas draws out her ideas for too long. These sections of the memoir become unfocused: Thomas attempts to highlight her key points, but they are hard to comprehend. At the end of the exposé, she finally states her official “thesis,” but the account would be much clearer if she had done so earlier on in the book.

Notably, Goodreads reviewers express frustration with Thomas’ bluntness, self-centeredness, and her tendency to obscure herself in her writing. These readers clearly did not pay attention to Thomas’ discussion of the attributes of a sociopath, as such a person lacks the empathy and social awareness they ironically fault Thomas for failing to exhibit. They do not realize that it would be impossible to read a memoir from the perspective of a sociopath that includes those qualities, unless it were severely edited, as the absence of these traits often defines a sociopath’s personality. Indeed, it is unfair and ignorant to fault Thomas for presenting a sociopathic personality and perspective in a memoir written by a sociopath about sociopathy.

Overall, Confessions of a Sociopath calls attention to the presence of sociopaths in society and identifies some of these people’s key traits that may typically go unobserved. As this memoir was quite enthralling and stimulating, it deserves 3/5 stars, regardless of its sometimes unfocused nature and lack of promised full disclosure.

Family Loyalty and Medical Ethics

by Jack Downey '23
A&E Co-Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Family Loyalty and Medical Ethics

A Review of My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Tully Mahoney ’23

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult, is an all-consuming, heart-wrenching novel about Kate, a girl diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at two years old, and her sister Anna, who was born to be Kate’s organ donor. The girls’ parents were told that having a family member serve as Kate’s bone marrow donor would give her the best chance at beating the leukemia, but neither they nor Kate’s brother are matches, so they are left hopeless until Anna is born as a perfect genetic match. 

By age 13, Anna has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots. Now, her parents are requesting that she give Kate her kidney. Anna questions who she is without Kate and if she means anything more to her family than being her sister’s lifeline; she figures she must draw the line at some point or she will continue to undergo such difficulties, so she meets with a lawyer to defend her body against her parents.

The novel is told from seven perspectives, giving a well-rounded view of the ethical debate that emerges at its center: Anna; Campbell, Anna’s lawyer; Sara, Anna’s mother; Brian, Anna’s father; Jesse, Anna’s brother; Julia, Anna’s guardian ad litem—which means someone appointed to act in a lawsuit on behalf of someone who cannot represent themselves, like a child; and Kate. These characters and their perspectives raise the questions of what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, and a good person as the debate of if it is morally correct to infringe on Anna’s rights to save Kate unfolds. Although this debate may appear to have a clear right answer—that Anna has the right over her own body—readers will find themselves empathizing with her parents’ point of view.

My Sister’s Keeper suffers from an unnecessary side plot following Campbell and Julia. Essentially, without giving away any spoilers, they were high school lovers whose extraordinarily different backgrounds led them to break up. When they are both assigned to Anna’s case, they feel an underlying awkwardness from what was left unsaid so many years ago.

As for its triumphs, the novel does a great job at artfully approaching a divisive real-life topic. Reading it in 2022, with genetic modification now possible, the story forces readers to consider how they would act in a situation that forced them to choose between family loyalty and medical ethics. Also, although the novel is told from several perspectives, which may appear overwhelming at first, it progresses elegantly and with a clear, full picture.

That being said, My Sister’s Keeper deserves 3.5/5 stars. Notably, there is a movie adaptation of this novel, but it makes significant changes to the book’s plot, which may leave readers rather disappointed. However, it is nevertheless a quality film that highlights the controversial ethical issues that drive the novel.

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

by Jack Downey '23
A&E Co-Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

A Romantic, Historical Fantasy You Won’t Be Able to Put Down

Tully Mahoney ’23

V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie Larue is a stunning novel that captivates readers from the very first page. As a young woman in 1700s France, Addie is expected to marry and raise children in the same town she grew up in, so she prays to new gods and old gods alike for freedom. For the longest time, she does not receive any sort of sign that her wish will be granted.

However, in a moment of desperation on her wedding night, she prays after dark and summons the god of the darkness, a ghost of the shadows that transfigures himself into a handsome man with eyes whose colors change with his emotions. She bargains with him to live forever without the shackles of expectations.

The catch? The devil curses her so everyone she meets forgets she exists. 

The novel splits between Addie’s life in the 1700s and the 2000s, following her adventures and the people she meets as she tries to make an impression in a world that she exists as a shadow within. Across the centuries, Addie and the god of darkness play a metaphorical game of chess, consistently attempting to be one step ahead of the other: he wants her to give up her soul, and she is too stubborn to give him the satisfaction of her doing so.

Addie learns to make her mark on the world by giving lyrics to musicians, allowing artists to paint her, and becoming a spy during wars. Her mark is subtle and can never truly be attributed to her, as anyone she meets forgets all about her as soon as she leaves, making them think they created the words, envisioned the face in the painting, or learned the secret information themselves. 

In her loneliness, Addie continuously asks herself, “What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind?” This question fuels her desire like an uncontrollable fire, especially when everything changes after she meets a boy in a bookstore, Henry, who somehow remembers who she is.

This is where the novel’s structure comes into play. It is split into four parts, and at the beginning of each, there is a description of a piece of artwork, a wonderful stylistic choice that unifies these parts seamlessly. Each work of art includes a description of a girl with seven freckles in the shape of a constellation: Addie. These illustrations describe Addie’s impact in the world and how Henry is connected to her before they even meet.

Indeed, before Henry meets Addie, his best friend, Bea, realizes that the same woman appears across decades of paintings and proposes this phenomenon to Henry as her thesis. He tells her it was likely just a coincidence, so Bea drops the idea. Upon meeting Addie, however, he realizes Bea was right, and notices that she does not remember Addie after they meet and thus does not make the connection herself. 

Schwab’s writing style is effortlessly elegant and captures the readers’ imaginations, and the novel’s plot line has two serious twists that prevent it from falling into a lull. Schwab creates characters that feel like real people regardless of the absurdity of someone making a deal with the devil. Readers will feel the characters’ pain, loneliness, happiness, and agony.

The main flaw of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue is the lack of experiences Addie has, considering that she lives for 300 years. She only travels from a small town in France to Paris to Brooklyn, and it is hard to imagine that a woman who disappeared from her family on her wedding day because the thought of living in the same town forever drove her crazy would then only go to only three places in three centuries. On a similar note, although Addie meets many great, infamous people, they are all Eurocentric icons. Also, the descriptions of Addie’s experiences, as well as her interactions with these icons are very limited, leaving much to be desired. 

All in all, however, the novel is worth the read, especially for readers who enjoy romance and historical fantasy.

Book Review: Anxious People

by Jack Downey '23
A&E Co-Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Book Review: Anxious People

A Clumsy Mischaracterization of Anxiety

Tully Mahoney ’23

Fredrik Backman is a multi-time bestselling author, making his novel Anxious People utterly disappointing and tacky. The premise of the novel is a bank robbery gone wrong that turns into a hostage situation in an apartment complex in Stockholm, Sweden. Simultaneously, it is a tale about how all of its characters’ backgrounds intertwine into a single storyline, which is outright predictable. A few themes that Backman highlights are generational differences, second chances, compassion, anxiety, and the difficulty of the human experience.

The premise of Anxious People is unfortunately unrealistic. For instance, its clumsy police officers are a father-son duo who quarrel about family drama and walk on eggshells around each other throughout the investigation. In real life, if father and son police officers could not properly interview suspects due to their underlying drama, their station would likely not allow them to work together. Furthermore, stations do not typically assign partners who are related because there are too many factors that would simply make them poor partners. This is just one example of Anxious People’s plot that is genuinely not feasible.

As its title suggests, the novel is about anxious people. However, its characterization of their anxiety is completely stereotypical, leaving Anxious People with a lack of depth. The novel delves into each character’s background, but each character is portrayed as having experienced some traumatic event in their past that made them the person that they are in the present-day setting of the novel. This commonality comes off as unrealistic to readers as well as a tasteless portrayal of anxiety. If the point of this novel is to illuminate the anxiety that plagues so many people, then the origin of each character’s anxiety should not be nearly identical to one another. The truth of anxiety is that some people have it genetically and others develop it due to certain events. Furthermore, everyone’s anxiety presents in different forms, and Anxious People fails to show such depth to the people with anxiety and anxious tendencies.

In addition, the characterization of each figure in the novel is cookie-cutter and flavorless. Each introduction of a new character is written identically, which makes the first 100 pages of the novel quite tough to remain engaged with—and there are too many characters to follow in the first place. Moreover, Anxious People consists of far too much narration and not nearly enough description. Backman does not give any attention to details, making the reader feel like an observer rather than a participant visualizing the action. This level of narration makes the novel’s plot confusing, as it is hidden under so much background context.

Backman also attempts to make Anxious People highlight fundamental truths of human existence. However, the revelation of these truths comes across as forced because the author deliberately tells readers the deeper meanings rather than revealing them through descriptive imagery. Some lines that exemplify this disappointing revelation are: “we are asleep until we fall in love,” “love is wanting you to exist,” and “personality is just the sum of our experiences.” These truths are not ground-breaking, earth-shattering epiphanies. Instead, they are reminiscent of advice a grandmother tells her grandkids while looking back on her life. Since Backman lacks depth in details and descriptors, he is unable to make these truths come across naturally in a way that would make the reader feel like they stumbled across a new revelation. 

Backman’s style of writing has a learning curve for some readers. Chapters range from a typical writing style to a police officer’s investigation notes. Backman uses humor throughout Anxious People and, sometimes, his writing appears to be a stream of consciousness. Despite the novel’s shortcomings, Backman succeeds in producing a connection between characters and readers through his ability to create sympathetic characters. Indeed, the novel has the potential to make readers feel less lonely—since it ultimately seems to be more about lonely people than anxious people—and realize that their human experience is not so different from that of everyone else. If there is any lasting impact of Anxious People, it is certainly this.

Book Review: Ugly Love

by Jack Downey '23
A&E Co-Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Book Review: Ugly Love

A Perfect Valentine’s Heartbreaker

Tully Mahoney ’23

Those who find themselves on “BookTok” have likely heard of Ugly Love. For those who do not, this novel is written by no. 1 New York Times Bestselling Author Colleen Hoover, a romance novel genius. Hoover has an exceptional ability to write with passion, create depth in her characters, and draw readers in from the first page. Ugly Love is yet another one of her truly unputdownable books.

Ugly Love is written from two perspectives: the first follows Tate Collins in the present day and the second follows Miles Archer when he was a teenager. When Tate and Miles first meet, they hardly like each other, as she finds him drunk outside her brother’s apartment. When he sobers up, however, they find they have a deep attraction to each other. The only caveat is that Miles has no interest in finding love and Tate has never been good at no-strings-attached relationships. Nonetheless, their undeniable chemistry leads them to follow two of Miles’ rules for romance: 1. Never ask about his past, and 2. Don’t expect a future. This is the point in the novel where the readers can tell the pair’s relationship is not going to end well. Indeed, ignoring the fact that she knows that abiding by these rules will hurt her, Tate accepts them.

Hoover does an exceptional job of maintaining the integrity of her characters’ perspectives. Some reviewers claim that the beginning sections of this novel are too sexually intimate, but it is clear that Hoover does this intentionally. Since the only narrative in present time is Tate’s, readers experience her mixed-emotions and confusion owing to Miles’ unpredictability in real time. The more time that Tate and Miles spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes: the line between “friends with benefits” and coupledom begins to slowly fade. Tate becomes more invested in their relationship; Miles becomes more inconsistent. However, as the reader learns more about Miles’ past, it becomes harder and harder for them to hate him. Yet, readers are still left with a feeling of frustration as they know what Tate does not yet know.

Readers will get angry that Tate does not leave Miles given what they know about him, but she reminds readers that “love isn’t always pretty. Sometimes you spend all your time hoping it’ll eventually be something different. Something better. Then, before you know it, you’re back to square one, and you lost your heart somewhere along the way.” Tate emphasizes that not all relationships are easy and that it is hard to judge someone’s decisions when they are under the spell of love. She shows that sometimes, love takes patience and perseverance.

Many reviewers on Goodreads have expressed anger that Hoover gives Tate “a lack of self-respect.” Such dissatisfied readers claim that since Tate is unable to stay away from Miles despite the fact that he continues to hurt her, she does not respect herself. This would be a valid argument if Tate was unaware of her actions, but throughout the novel, she continues to show awareness of the situation she is putting herself in. She consciously subjects herself to less-than-respectful treatment because, as she says, “beautiful moments make up for the ugly love.” Hoover’s portrayal of Tate in this manner makes her feel like a real person: she is able to make her own decisions, even if that makes the readers angry. Indeed, readers are meant to hurt for Tate and wish she was given the treatment she deserves—everyone truly wants a happy ending for their favorite characters.

Hoover also uses an interesting writing style when narrating Miles’ past. When initially describing his first love, he says “Rachel. Rachel. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. She’s like poetry.” From this point forward, his entire section is written in poetry because this is the way he views his life with Rachel. When she ultimately hurts him, this poetry disappears, demonstrating he no longer understands the world around him. 

Ugly Love is the perfect novel to pick up for an early Valentine’s heartbreak. It deserves an undoubtable five stars due to Hoover’s beautiful prose and her ability to create characters who lift off the page.

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

by The Cowl Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

A Hopeful Tale of Love Amidst Hatred

Tully Mahoney ’23

Heather Morris’s novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a compelling story of love that takes place within one of the dreariest environments possible: a concentration camp. Although the basis of this tale is incredibly intriguing, Morris does a poor job at illuminating its depth.

This novel follows the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew. He is forced into the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his Nazi-German captors find that he speaks multiple languages, they force him into the position of the camp tattooist, which means that he must inscribe each prisoner’s identification number on their arm. This position brings him much more security and safety than any other prisoner because the Nazis viewed him as a greater asset than his fellow captees. For instance, he is provided larger rations and a personal cabin. He uses this higher ranking position to exchange jewels and money for food in the hope of keeping other prisoners alive, risking his own safety to do so.

It is in this position that he meets the love of his life, Gita. She comes to him to get her prisoner identification marking tattooed on her first day at the concentration camp. He nearly gets the two of them killed because he cannot stand the idea of marking such a beautiful woman. During their first meeting, he vows to one day marry her. 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz illuminates themes of survival, faith, love, sacrifice, and uncertainty. Morris’ use of Gita and Lale’s love story as the basis for this historical fiction novel is powerful enough to make up for her poor writing, but it would have been much better if she used more prose.

Morris instead relies very heavily on dialogue, which makes sense given her background in screenwriting. If she had included more description of her characters’ emotions and features as well as their environment, this story would truly lift off the page and perhaps leave the reader a different person after reading it. Morris’ lack of description, however, makes for rather tedious reading.

Nonetheless, since this novel is based on a true story, readers will be on the edge of their seats, anxious about what the characters are risking for love. Despite the lack of detail in regards to the characters’ emotions, the storyline will be enough for readers to feel their tension, love, and exhaustion. 

Indeed, there are thousands of novels about the Holocaust, but it is often difficult to find a silver lining in them since they detail such a tragic event in world history. This novel finds that silver lining. The Tattooist of Auschwitz reminds readers that survival can be a form of resistance and love can triumph over hatred if one holds onto it tight enough.

Overall, The Tattooist of Auschwitz deserves 3/5 stars. While the true story is compelling, Morris’ lack of artistic figurative language is a source of frustration. If Morris chooses to make this novel into a movie with her screenwriting background, perhaps she would be able to more successfully convey Gita and Lale’s beautiful love.

Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land

by The Cowl Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land

Anthony Doerr Continues to Prove His Mastery at Weaving Tales Together

Tully Mahoney ’23

Anthony Doerr’s carefully crafted novel Cloud Cuckoo Land is yet another astonishing triumph for the author, who made waves in the literary world with All the Light We Cannot See in 2014. It’s nearly impossible to place this novel into one genre as it contains elements of fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, and fantasy. Cloud Cuckoo Land follows five characters whose timelines range from ancient Constantinople to the future. Originally, these characters do not appear to have any connection whatsoever, as their individual stories take place in distant settings, but Doerr magically brings them together in the final two hundred pages of the novel through their shared connection to a singular book that acts as a centerpiece in this story.

In 15th century Constantinople, two separate stories cross over: Anna and Omeir. Anna is an orphan, living in a women’s home making priest’s robes. Her curiosity leads her to learn to read and discover an ancient book in an illegal midnight escapade. She reads this story to her ill sister as the walls of Constantinople are sieged. Outside the walls, Omier, a village boy, debates his own choices.

Hundreds of years later, in 2020, in an Idaho library, a play based on the story Anna found is being performed by five children. Unknown to the actors, below them a young boy named Seymour has planted a bomb among the books, setting the stage for another siege.

The final story of this novel follows Konstance, who is alone in a vault in the spaceship Argos in the year 2146. She has only set foot on the Earth through an “Atlas” that teaches the children on the ship about where they came from. In this Atlas, when exploring her father’s hometown, she finds the ancient book that Anna found hundreds of years prior in Constantinople. 

Although there are many different stories in Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr does an impressive job of keeping his readers engaged by using deep descriptions and wonderfully intertwined hints as to what is to come. Reading this novel feels like sorting through a puzzle until all the pieces finally click together. For some readers, this may be incredibly frustrating since it takes time to sort out all these fragments, but for other readers, it will be a whirlwind of adventure that entices them to grasp onto each page.

Cloud Cuckoo Land reminds the readers that “sometimes the things we think are lost are only hidden, waiting to be rediscovered.” This line is truly the main theme of the novel, as many of the characters come across loss in their life before eventually rediscovering a fragment of what they have lost in something previously unknown to them. Furthermore, Doerr dedicates this novel to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come.” This suggests that Doerr believes that the books these libraries contain are the source of those rediscoveries. Doerr also bends the definition of truth throughout the novel, reminding readers that there may be some level of genuineness in wacky stories.

Cloud Cuckoo Land deserves a hesitant 4/5 stars. The withholding of the fifth star owes to the fact that this novel is incredibly intricate, so it’s difficult to give it a solid rating as well as because its length–622 pages–will make readers slightly impatient as they wonder how the various characters and their stories come together. Nonetheless, Doerr deserves high praise for the complexity and creativity of his imagination. Indeed, readers will end their journey with the book wondering how he came up with a novel so perfectly crafted.

Book Review: The Vanishing Half

by The Cowl Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Book Review: The Vanishing Half

A Compelling Tale of Identity and Sisterhood

Tully Mahoney ’23

It should come as no surprise that The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett won the Goodreads Choice Awards for the best historical fiction novel of 2020 and was immediately picked up by HBO to be made into a limited series. This novel is wonderfully intricate and beautifully written. The characters lift off the page and are bound into a beautiful story that illuminates themes of race, formation of identity, recurrence, and progress. 

This novel highlights a set of twins, the Vignes sisters, from Mallard, LA. Mallard is a southern community that is “obsessed with lightness.” Although the entire community is populated by Black people, its members are consumed with the idea of being light because of internalized oppression. Indeed, the people of Mallard grapple with forming a single identity: they desire lightness, yet unequivocally identify with their blackness. For Desiree and Stella Vignes, this small town’s value of lightness is incredibly suffocating, especially after witnessing the death of their father as children: “[they] didn’t hate Mallard as much as [they] felt trapped by its smallness.” 

When the sisters finally summon the courage to escape the confines of the town, they flee Mallard to New Orleans in the middle of the night, planning to never return. They had spent their entire lives together, and always expected to. However, Desiree is unaware of her sister’s plan for her future—when the pair arrives in New Orleans, Stella uses the light color of her skin to pass as white, which ultimately forces her to choose between one life, the one she shares with her sister, and a new, “white” life. One fateful day, Stella makes her choice, packing up everything from her shared apartment with Desiree and setting out for her new life as a white-passing person. Creating a new life is not too difficult for Stella, for “she was always inventing her life.” Rather, the true loss appears in Desiree’s deep yearning to revitalize a piece of herself that only lives in her twin sister. 

Bennett binds together two generational stories, following the points of view of Stella, Desiree, and their daughters to create a well-rounded, complex storyline that is perfectly curated. This author has a great ability to make scenes come alive, so that readers can truly visualize each aspect of the story. For instance, the line, “her skin the color of sand barely wet,” is incredibly unique and creates a powerful visual.

For this reader, the beginning third of this novel felt a little too slow, although crucial in order for the rest of the novel to be as captivating as it truly is. The Vanishing Half is incredibly thought-provoking, as it explores a struggle with identity that persists across multiple generations even as the politics of each generation change. Bennett’s attention to this matter highlights how identity crises follow political turmoil and internalized oppression. 

Despite its slow start, there is truly nothing about this novel that readers will not love. The Vanishing Half deserves an undoubtable 5/5 stars.

Book Review: Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone

by The Cowl Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Book Review: Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone 

Domestic Horror in an Alaskan Wonderland

Tully Mahoney ’23

Trigger Warning: The following article is a review of a novel that deals with topics such as domestic abuse. This issue is only lightly touched on in the article, but is described in detail in the novel. 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is an extraordinarily heart-wrenching novel that will have readers convincing themselves that they will only read one more chapter, only to stay up all night to read many more. The novel follows a young woman, Leni, who is adversely impacted by her parents’ toxic marriage. She and her family, the Allbrights, move into complete isolation in the wilderness of Alaska. Leni’s father, Ernt, was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. He was never truly able to reintegrate himself into society, so living off the grid in seclusion with no electricity, grocery stores, or police seems like the perfect solution for him. 

However, the shift from Alaskan summer to winter is tremendously triggering for Ernt, an unemployed alcoholic, and sparks post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, flashbacks, and nightmares. Hannah juxtaposes the beautiful wonderland of Alaska and all its treasures with the turmoil hidden in the family’s lonely, isolated cabin: “All this time Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was the biggest danger of all was in her own home.” 

Hannah has an incredible ability to make the pages of this work come alive. She bounds its plot around the most intricate and specific details of the landscape and characters’ appearances to create an all-immersive experience for readers. In addition to this profound ability to illuminate such vivid details, she takes care to highlight the toxic relationships that parents can have and how such relationships can manifest themselves in their child. Hannah powerfully exposes the reality of the sort of abuse that is never as simple as it appears to be; she wonderfully executes a feeling of love wrapped in deep betrayal that feels suffocating to read, as readers wish the characters would make the choices readers tell themselves they’d be able to. 

Hannah spends a large majority of the novel setting up its major conflict. This strategy makes the novel feel like it is dragging on for too long in its first section with a rushed resolution toward the end. Nonetheless, its final pages were so masterfully crafted that they had this reviewer in tears wishing the novel wasn’t coming to an end so soon. 

One other frustration with this novel is that some of the facts or details about Alaska that Hannah included were very stereotypical and felt dropped into scenes. For example, one line describes the setting as “a town where winter lasted from September through April, and night lay across the land for eighteen hours.” Anyone could find such a description on Google. Some of this information would have been better explained through Hannah’s breathtaking imagery rather than being placed directly into the novel in such a cliche manner. 

In this reviewer’s opinion, The Great Alone deserves 3.85/5 stars. The final pages leave more to be desired; the beginning of the novel could have done with less context. The ending was truly the most enjoyable part of the work, and readers will feel themselves having a much harder time putting this part of the book down than its earlier chapters–this reviewer even read it while brushing her teeth as she neared its end.

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

by The Cowl Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s Chilling Dystopian Vision

Tully Mahoney ’23

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a chilling exposé of a dystopian reality in which an extreme regime overtakes the US government and creates an ultra-patriarchal, religious state known as the Republic of Gilead. The novel is told from the point of view of a Handmaid, Offred, whose only duty is to produce children for a Commander, a Gilead official, and his wife. She is subjected to participate in a “Ceremony,” a non-consensual ritual that Handmaids undergo in order to conceive children. The main themes that Atwood highlights in the novel are women’s limited choices, the subjugation of women in patriarchal societies, and the female desire for independence.

Some events that take place in The Handmaid’s Tale are very contradictory of the Christian faith, yet the extremist government in the novel justifies these acts using Christianity. Non-consensual sex, adultery, murder, and pre-marital sex are just a few examples of this phenomenon. Such acts are fundamental sins and appear contradictory to a religious state. Atwood’s deep dive into an extremist interpretation of theology, paired with an equally extreme patriarchal mindset, led her to stray from typical Christian dogma. 

On sites like GoodReads, some readers gave The Handmaid’s Tale poor ratings due to Atwood’s lack of usage of quotation marks. These reviewers ignore the importance of her message and instead cling to grammatical choices. Atwood is fully aware of when and where it is proper to use quotation marks, yet she broke this rule with intention and purpose. If one’s main argument against a novel is its grammatical correctness, then they are not truly looking at its deeper meaning. 

The Handmaid’s Tale will make readers love it while simultaneously hating it. There were sections of this novel that hurt to read, forcing some people to picture uncomfortable scenes that they would have never imagined, even in their wildest dreams. A book that makes a reader cringe as they read, yet compels them to keep reading, is a book that is worth one’s time. This dystopian world is a feminist’s nightmare, yet its terrifying reality opens readers’ eyes to the warning that Atwood is attempting to convey as she demonstrates what life would be like if humans adhered to extremist misogynistic views. Notably, the sense of horror present throughout The Handmaid’s Tale is not only limited to its women and their lack of independence, but is also seen in the men who have near-total power in their society, yet show no signs of joy, happiness, or love, which are three components of truly living.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel that is important for people of all walks of life to read. History is taught because everyone must learn about the past to not repeat its mistakes. Reading The Handmaid’s Tale can help prevent the realization of a society like described in the novel, one that allowed for a horrible reality for women.

Atwood has a wonderful ability to make a distant reality feel real. Readers are able to see Offred’s world, feel her contempt, and hear her conversations, which will transform their current views on the society in which they live. The Handmaid’s Tale feels very slow in the beginning half, but it is worth pushing through because this section of the text provides a lot of context for its second half, which will leave readers unable to put the book down.

The Handmaid’s Tale has been made into a Hulu TV show for those who are less inclined towards reading or like to pair their books with imagery in film. This reviewer must note that she could not get past the first episode because she felt like it strayed too far from the book and was not an accurate depiction. Nevertheless, the series does a fair job of conveying the general idea of the novel.