Sunday, August 07, 2011

Canadian Book Challenge 5: Moral Disorder - Margaret Atwood

I'm getting another late start but as Alanis Morrissette would put it, everything's gonna be fine, fine, fine.  I've got one hand in my pocket and the other one is holding a copy of Margaret Atwood's short story collection, Moral Disorder.  This collection seems almost like a novel since all the stories revolve around the same character, Nell (according to the last story, apparently her mother named her after a favorite childhood horse). 

The stories covering Nell's growing-up years and her relationship with her 12-years-younger sister, Lizzie, are standouts.  One of my favorites was "My Last Duchess", in which Nell is tutoring her prematurely staid boyfriend Bill (as in a bill that must be paid?) for exams, and they end up fighting and breaking up over the characters in in Browning's poem.  Bill is aghast that Nell has decided that the Duke might deserve some sympathy because his last duchess was smarmy and stupid with her indiscriminate smiles.

When Nell is in her late 20s, she gets involved with a kooky couple called Oona and Tig (short for Gilbert).  She and Oona become friends, but oddly, Oona has handpicked Nell to be Tig's next wife.  I couldn't quite follow why Nell just went along with it; Tig remains a nonentity.  The two of them settle into a farmhouse in the title story and it felt like The Egg & I with Atwood's trademark unpleasant twinges when she's writing about relationships.

My other favorite was "The Labrador Fiasco".  Nell, now middle-aged, is visiting her parents, and her father, a recovering stroke victim is captivated with the ill-fated account of Hubbard and Wallace, two Americans who blithely decided to make their names exploring "the last unmapped Labrador wilds", along with a Native American guide, George.  As Nell's father, who was an adept outdoorsman in his younger days, compulsively follows the story again, he can point with assurance to the errors Hubbard and Wallace made.  Then, after suffering a second stroke, he falls under the impression that it is he who is lost in a forest.

"I never thought this would happen," he says.  He doesn't mean the stroke, because he doesn't know he's had one.  He means getting lost.
"We know what to do," I say.  "Anyway, we'll be fine."
"We'll be fine," he says, but he sounds dubious.  He doesn't trust me, and he is right.

It's been several years since I read any of Atwood's work (unless I count her brilliant introduction to Frozen In Time) and Moral Disorder has whetted my appetite for more.


Anonymous said...

It's Margaret Atwood month! I'm re-reading Handmaid's Tale, and thoroughly enjoying it.

Carrie#K said...

I'd break up with Nell too. She champions the Duke? Feh.

MA's ideas are fascinating. They don't always translate to a good book for me though.

Alyssa from Popular Books said...

I've read something from Atwood a couple of years back and I remember not even finishing it. I've stumbled upon Moral Disorder a while ago and it completely sucked me in, so I guess I've evolved..