One of the world’s most celebrated authors, Margaret Atwood has penned a collection of smart and entertaining fictional essays, in the genre of her popular books Good Bones and Murder in the Dark, punctuated with wonderful illustrations by the author. Chilling and witty, prescient and personal, delectable and tart, these highly imaginative, vintage Atwoodian mini-fictions speak on a broad range of subjects, reflecting the times we live in with deadly accuracy and knife-edge precision.
In pieces ranging in length from a mere paragraph to several pages, Atwood gives a sly pep talk to the ambitious young; writes about the disconcerting experience of looking at old photos of ourselves; gives us Horatio’s real views on Hamlet; and examines the boons and banes of orphanhood. “Bring Back Mom: An Invocation” explores what life was really like for the “perfect” homemakers of days gone by, and in “The Animals Reject Their Names,” she runs history backward, with surprising results.
Well this is a quirky little book by Atwood, I ran into it by chance at the library and picked it up because it’s tiny and I figured that it would be a quick read. It was and it wasn’t, it was the type of book that I could pick up here and there and read a couple of the shorts and put it back down to get back to my other books. It was a nice palette cleanser between books or if another book started to drag.
The book is filled with illustrations by Atwood herself. All of them were fantastical and I think fit the collection well, giving this look and feel of absurdity. Most of the shorts in this book really are short, some comprising of no more than two pages while some of the longest was perhaps six pages at most. This collection is hard to define since it includes poetry, short fiction, and a few essays disguised as a short stories. Atwood maintains her signature dreamy style of lyrical prose all throughout the collection. While I personally enjoy her prose I can easily see why others might be frustrated by it, there is definitely an air of nonchalance and it can sometimes feel like there is no real story.
The shorts where Atwood tackled social issues on the other hand were marvelous, barbed and searing but it might not feel that way because as mentioned before, that comfortable dreamy prose is present throughout. My two absolute favorite stories in the collection hands down were Life Stories and Bring Back Mom: An Invocation. There were other favorites as well but those two were the one that stood out the most.
Since there were so many pieces in this collection, thirty-five to be exact, I rated each story as well as each of the three sections to come up with my score. I’ll be up front that the first part I only rated a 2.5, the start of the collection is very slow and felt nonsensical to me. The second set was by far the best of the three, with a 4.5 average score, while part three fell in between with a 3.5. Part three also started slow but ended strong with some of the final pieces being among some of my favorites.
I think I can comfortably recommend this collection for folks that are already fans of Margaret Atwood or are big fans of poetry. It’s an unusual collection but one that I found enjoyable overall.
Strengths: Searing social commentary in Atwood’s dream-like style
Weaknesses: Many shorts are too short and don’t leave much impression
Warnings: Mild language, mentions of sex, rape, and violence