I had somehow never gotten around to reading Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, "The Handmaid's Tale," until now. Suffice to say, I read it with the same kind of alternate horror and fascination with which I consumed George Orwell's "1984." Both novels were far more prophetic than I think either author could have imagined.Atwood's protagonist, Offred (fertile women, called Handmaids, are given a possessive name featuring the patronymic of the man to whom they belong), is part of the first generation of women living in the so-called Republic of Gilead (formerly Bangor, Maine) ... she knows how to read and write but is denied those pursuits. Future generations of women will be kept deliberately illiterate in this new society, with laws based on the Old Testament since the Constitution has been suspended. Ex post facto law is in effect, and physicians and scientists are executed regularly -- their bodies are suspended from the town wall as a warning to others.The handmaids have an underground network via which they communicate -- in direct violation of the laws. Their lives are highly regulated, yet since they must go about in pairs, they manage to get word to one another of various events.Offred's story is presented in the context of an anthropological document studied in the distant future. However, it also shows what would happen to the United States in the event that certain fundamentalist theocractic factions were able to overturn current laws -- and thus serves as an important object lesson for all.