Margaret Atwood (Bloomsbury) 2014, 268pp, RRP $35.00
The esteemed and prolific Atwood’s latest is an interconnected (but not always obviously), often darkly funny selection of nine short stories that tend to follow consistent themes: past wrongs and attempts to right them; fears of getting old and losing one’s grip; and the chilling prospect of facing a world that increasingly doesn’t care, and sometimes violently so.
Alphinland (which initially sounds like it’s to do with prescription drug abuse), the first offering here, has a senior writer of ‘genre fiction’ and creator of the fabulous titular realms helped and soothed by her dead husband’s voice during a snowstorm, and The Dead Hand Loves You also explores themes of ‘trash’ writing, with an amusingly biting twist. Revenant studies a famous poet now regrettably infirm (and what a bastard he is), and this leads onto Dark Lady, which goes on a bit too long, chronicling the weird lives of a pair of ageing twins (but aren’t twins always weird, they keep on asking?), while Lusus Naturae is almost a horror story told from the monster’s point of view and The Freeze-Dried Groom is a mystery drama that unfolds unexpectedly and ends abruptly. Stone Mattress demonstrates conclusively why you shouldn’t holiday in the Arctic, and the finale, Torching The Dusties, seems to be another perhaps paranormal tale of frail Wilma and her tendency to see dancing little people on window sills and bookcases, but soon turns into maybe the ultimate depiction of disrespect for the elderly.
Full of characters we don’t always like (especially the self-obsessed cast of I Dream Of Zenia With The Bright Red Teeth), Atwood’s gorgeously written pieces are nevertheless compulsively readable, sadly moving, eerily disturbing and seriously witty – and sometimes all at once.
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