I read this book soon after it was published, but about all I remembered of it was "The Ceremony." It seemed to me then to be just a weird semi-fantasy tale. Re-reading it recently, however, I am having a different experience. It feels immediate; futuristic, but two years from now, not 100. It is eerily prescient of the new view of religion, power, and women.
The setting is what used to be the United States, but is now Gilead. It is governed by principles taken and twisted from the Old Testament. Society is strictly striated and controlled. Women cannot work or read. They are divided into three groups -- "Martha's" are household help, cooks, etc in the homes of "Commanders." "Wives" depend on their husbands for their place in society and their standard of living. "Handmaid's" are assigned for three-year stints to Commanders; their job is to reproduce. They are put through a rigorous re-education program to teach them sumbission and acceptance of their holy responsibility to provide children for their Commander. Some are "re-educated" but some cannot get over the cruelty and injustice of their "place" in the new world order. This is a chilling book.