Saturday, October 29, 2011

Canadian Book Challenge 5: Who Brought the Cat?

In early October, I was all about Margaret Atwood.  Wonderful Atwood and her dry, ironic tone.  You've probably read her, but have you ever heard her speak?  It's one of the true pleasures in a civilized world.  I could listen to her all day.

The first Atwood book for this month (my first ever was the 1976 novel Lady Oracle) was a 1991 short story collection called Wilderness Tips.  this has been on my TBR shelf for a couple of years.  There are some books, like this one, that I hoard like candy because I know I'm going to enjoy them thoroughly and I'm heightening my delight by delaying it.  Sometimes that doesn't always work out.  I'm thinking of Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill.  My fault, not Gaitskill's.  When a book sits on your TBR for 5+ years, your expectations can get wildly over-inflated.

Anyway, this was not the case with Wilderness Tips.  I knew I would enjoy it and I did.  First of all, it contains one of my very favorite short stories, "Hairball", which I first read when it was published in The New Yorker under the title "Kat".  Kat, an editor for a fashion magazine in Toronto with a reputation for her edgy style has been hospitalized with a large but benign ovarian cyst.  The cyst is removed, and the surgeon saves it for Kat as she requested.  While she's recuperating, her married lover whom she has transformed from provincial to cosmopolitan, maneuvers himself into Kat's job and maneuvers her out the door.  "Gerald couldn't edit the phone book," Kat thinks, upon hearing that "Ger" is her replacement.  I love that line; I can hear Atwood saying it!  The current-me loves "Hairball" as much as the much-younger-me did.  If you were to read only one story in this collection (but why stop there?) my vote is for this one.

After "Hairball", others I enjoyed were "True Trash", "The Bog Man" and "Death by Landscape".  "Weight" was vintage Atwood; a woman is raising money for a battered women's shelter in memory of her friend Molly who was murdered by her spouse.  The woman is having lunch with a rich company owner and she bitterly notices that he's viewing the whole thing as a prelude to a seduction.  "Isis in Darkness" is one of two stories from a male point of view about a would-be poet who develops a lifelong fascination with an enigmatic female contemporary who is much more gifted than he is.  The title story and the last story "Hack Wednesday" I didn't find very strong or interesting in comparison to the others.

My other Atwood read was the 2003 Oryx and Crake, a dystopian novel.  The book begins with Snowman who is sleeping in a tree, clad only in a sheet and starving to death.  The weather seems to be all messed up and he has to be on guard against threatening  and obviously genetically engineered animals like pigoons and wolvogs.  There seem to be no other people around except the very odd green-eyed herbivores that Snowman refers to as the Children of Crake, who treat him kind of like a monster and kind of like a prophet.  They have created a theology about Oryx and Crake, and always ask Snowman questions about them. Oryx was a a former sex slave who Jimmy and Crake both loved.

Snowman tries to make sense of his world by going back into his past when he was Jimmy, a young boy who grew up in the Compound, where extraordinary people lived (those gifted at science and technology).  At school, he becomes friends with Crake, a brilliant and strange newcomer.  During these recollections, Jimmy/Snowman makes an actual and treacherous journey back to Crake's top-secret lair, the ironically named Paradice Project.

In the early pages, Oryx and Crake feels a little bit like The Road, but during the passages detailing Jimmy and Crake's teenage years, Atwood's dry wit is apparent.  She writes adolescent males so well.  She even gets pretty silly with her names for animals and names of products and the video games and websites Jimmy and Crake play and visit, some of which seem creepily familiar.  I'm now reading The Year of the Flood, which was published several years later.  It is a companion piece to Oryx and Crake. Jimmy's in dire straits at the end of Oryx and Crake, so I hope that he'll turn up or some mention of him will be made in The Year of the Flood.

This huge dip into Margaret Atwood's work makes me sad that my TBR pile of her books is dwindling.  After I finish The Year of the Flood, all that will be left is The Tent.  It might be time to venture into the pleeblands for more Atwood.


SFP said...

As soon as I saw the title Wilderness Tips, I thought: Hairball!

What a story.

I'm behind on my Margaret Atwood. You'll need to tell me once you've finished YotF, if I ought to go back and reread O&C before I start. I've got it, and Payback and Moral Disorder still to read.

Bybee said...

Oh, I want to read Payback as well!

Anonymous said...

I've never heard her speak. :-( Maybe I should consider a move to Canada to increase my chances?

Care said...

I need to read Year of the Flood before I forget what happens in Oryx&Crake. Loved it. I have Alias Grace around here somewhere waiting patiently.