Of Firebolt and Offred.

I have just finished listening to the audiobook of The Handmaid’s Tale. Meanwhile, Firebolt grows.

As the Audible credits played, I worked on the tenth repeat of “broomsticks” in the pattern.


I was on a wrong-side row.

Something the narrator says in Chapter 45 resonated strongly within me. It is the last “regular” chapter of the novel, and Offred has just learned some unsettling news. Her own fate is soon to be questioned. At a figurative and almost literal crossroads, she grounds herself through breathing:

I breathe in, deeply, breathe out, giving myself oxygen. The space in front of me blackens, then clears. I can see my way.

I had to pause and rewind the audio. (Rewind. Isn’t that funny and so outdated? I guess reverse would be a better word. Truly: I tapped the counterclockwise arrow to skip backward thirty seconds.) I listened again. Giving myself oxygen. Breathing as a gift.

Suddenly, I became aware of my own breathing. With each breath, I give myself the gift of oxygen. I was reminded of the times when I have used deep breathing and meditation to calm and center me. Space does go black, and then the way before me does seem at least a little clearer.

Breathing in, breathing out.

Of course, I had to backtrack the audio again, as I was lost in my own thoughts.

Giving myself the gifts of oxygen and knitting, I listened through to the end of the novel. The main story ended unexpectedly soon because I saw there were more than thirty minutes left, and I was on Chapter 45 of 46. But Chapter 46 was really “Historical Notes,” which confused me at first because I was thinking this was an appendix to the novel, but I quickly realized that it, too, was fictional and part of the story.

To those of you who have not read The Handmaid’s Tale, I apologize for the following and will do my best not to put any spoilers here.

Those of you who have read it: Do you remember this sort of epilogue at the end?

I’m curious what others think about it. I am sure there have been—somewhat ironically—scholarly papers written about it, but I haven’t had the chance to look into those yet. For the most part, I am disappointed by its inclusion. I am not sure it has added anything that I might not have thought of on my own—with the exception of the Commander speculation, but I’m not sure I care. The rest of it, I could have figured out or speculated for myself. It almost seems as if Atwood doesn’t trust her audience enough to draw these conclusions ourselves. Am I missing something? The only purposesI can think of so far is that—minor spoiler alert!—she wants to make sure we know that the “Gilead regime” ends and is a thing of the past.

Still, I think the novel could have ended more solidly with Offred’s last line of narration.

That being said, The Handmaid’s Tale will likely rank pretty highly among novels I have read. It is difficult to say that I liked it because the entire listening experience was an uncomfortable one, and I assume the reading experience would be the same, though I believe Claire Dane’s performance added a fitting complexity to the text.

This story is one that I won’t soon forget, especially not now in our rapidly changing and politically-charged environment. It only deepens the chills down my spine when I see or hear Make American Great Again.  

In case it isn’t clear: I very much recommend Atwood’s novel. But it isn’t for the faint of heart or for anyone who is looking for a pleasant escape. It is, however, for those who worry—or troublingly, even moreso for those who don’t worry—about the direction our country has taken recently.

As for the knitting, I don’t think I am anywhere close to done with this shawl.

It began with one “broomstick” motif, and with each pattern repeat, there are three more in the row. Now, there are twenty-eight broomy triangles in the repeat I am on now.


Once I finished the novel, I decided it was time to upgrade the cable length for the circular needles. I could no longer spread the stitches out to see the whole thing in an uncramped stated. I think it was on a 24-inch cable.


I dug through my nest of interchangeable cables and found one that is suitable. I have no idea how long it is, but I know it’s long enough—for now.


As I slipped the stitches from the shorter cable to the longer, I couldn’t help but count them. Three hundred fifty-one. That didn’t seem right, so I checked the pattern and did the math. Yep, for the selvedge and edging plus twenty-eight repeats of the motif for that particular pattern row: 351 stitches.

Most rows are longer than the one before, considering there are yarnovers separating the three-stitch garter edging from the body of the shawl. However, there are some rows that contract the length with two- and three- stitch decreases. I don’t pretend to understand how this all works. (I mean, math. Duh.) But I am impressed by it.

Sooner or later, I will transition to the third phase of the pattern, which has ruffles. I know ruffles can double and triple the stitch count, so I need to be mindful of my remaining yardage. On someone’s Ravelry project page, I think I read that this part took 17% of the total yarn. Yikes.

Perhaps I need to introduce a scale into this process.

I am not a precision sort of person, but I would really hate to have to tink or frog because I just continued knitting in blissful ignorance.

•••

I think I will wait a while before watching the film of The Handmaid’s Tale. (Okay, like a day or two.) I don’t want my perception and processing of the book to be entirely erased by the movie, but I am also dying to see it interpreted on screen. Plus, I would like to be able to talk about it with the Husband, who I hope will watch it with me.

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