Margaret Atwood, the Dark Queen

Anna Staff Image

It feels like it may never be warm again. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m doomed to shivering, sniffling, bundling up, waiting out the awful, bitter torture that is winter in Pennsylvania. Although I am 100% ready for spring, I will admit that the camaraderie of discontent (ugh, this weather!) and the pervasive gloominess of a snowy March make for perfect Margaret Atwood reading conditions.

I have trouble expressing my admiration for the venerable Ms. Atwood in words, which I think is partly due to the fact that she deals in raw emotion. Regret, shame, passion, nostalgia (that’s a big one), gnawing bittersweetness, lurking fear. I once had a shirt that reminded me of the feeling I had when I read Cat’s Eye: small rose blossoms on a wrinkled black blouse- dainty and pretty and with a vintage grace, all underscored by something dark.

Because Atwood’s writing is so emotionally evocative, she’s constantly stirring up dormant memories from my past (The way she writes about childhood! How mean little girls can be!) which often impact me as much, or more so, than her plots do. Which is not to say that her narratives are lacking- far from it! The Blind Assassin has so many twists and turns and layers of reality that I felt like I was constantly losing my breath trying to figure out what was going on and where I, as the reader, was.

Though best known for her stunning dystopic masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale (DB 24695/ LP 8463), Atwood’s other novels and short story collections are equally haunting and fantastic:

Cat’s Eye
DB 29001
LP 11405

When Elaine Risley returns to Toronto for a retrospective of her slightly surreal paintings, she must face many of the childhood memories she had tried to push aside when she fled the city years earlier. As Elaine reflects on her childhood and remembers her “best friend,” Cordelia, she reveals much of the torment that children can inflict on one another. Bestseller. 1988.  

 

The Blind Assassin
DB 50848
LP 20831

This convoluted tale of two sisters begins in Toronto with the questionable circumstances of the 1945 death of the younger, Laura, at twenty-five. A memoir by Iris, the surviving and now elderly sister, recalls what led up to the tragic event. Interspersed is a novel-within-a-novel, Laura’s posthumously published book. Bestseller. Man Booker Prize. 2000.

 

Wilderness Tips
DB 33803

Many of the entries in this collection utilize flashbacks and forward jumps to cover broad spectrums of the protagonists’ lives. Set in Ontario, the stories focus on coming of age, failed relationships, and the impact of death. One woman sends her pickled, benign tumor of hair and teeth to her ex-lover’s wife. Another, who has always depended on older men, is shocked when betrayed in her mentor’s memoirs. Some descriptions of sex. 1991.