Dystopian stories about women are all the rage right now, thanks to Hulu.

While Gather the Daughters (Little, Brown, 352 pp., ** out of four stars) clearly was in the works long before the series based on Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale made the country gaga over Gilead, it’s riding the wave of the show’s popularity.

But it wipes out. Daughters is derivative at best and a faded photocopy at worst.

Jennie Melamed’s debut novel is about a religious commune cloistered on an island that was settled generations earlier by 10 male founders who escaped what the commune calls “the wastelands.” 

The commune eschews modern technology and conveniences, though the wanderers, a handful of men who travel by ferry back to the larger world, occasionally return with mementos, such as a book called Cubist Picasso, and medicine.

For the island dwellers, life is a biblical horror show set amid a violent patriarchal society that uses a calendar tied to agricultural rites for obscure reasons and enforces super-strict sex rules.

The boudoir mores are hardly by the book — the Good one or otherwise. They include incest, orgies, what amounts to forced marriages and treating women as baby-making machines.

The island’s children get a reprieve every summer, when they run wild outdoors 24/7. For the young girls who lend their rotating points of views to each chapter, the warm weather becomes bittersweet as they get closer to adolescence, the time when they must find husbands. Those that get too uppity face harsh punishments.


Occasionally, converts move to the island — an effort to refresh the gene pool, because of all the inbreeding. The newcomers have strict instructions not to discuss their old lives in the wastelands, but sometimes,…