The profound and prolific Margaret Atwood writes with an incisive wit and sophistication that is bred of experience, her sage wisdom and pithy comments on the state of the world welcome in any context.
Atwood discourses on diverse topics in a series of deceptively short pieces. With herself a central figure, the author possesses intimate knowledge of this territory: “Encouraging the Young”; “Orphan Stories”; “It’s Not Easy Being Half-Divine”; “Chicken Little Goes Too Far.”
An invitation to explore the self and the modern world, the conventions that define our civilization and the beliefs we embrace, past, future, fable and myth are pliable in this author’s hands and replete with rampant imagery. Nothing is wasted as each insightful twist piques the complacent intellect, an undercurrent of hope hinting that all is not lost.
From the quirky retelling of fable to trenchant observations on a conflicted culture, each entry prods and stimulates the imagination. “The Tent,” the title piece, is an allegory of us and them, one man’s damnation another man’s salvation: “you can’t be exact about the truth and you don’t want to go out there, out into the wilderness to see for yourself.”
The world de-evolves in “The Animals Reject Their Names,” species to cell, vague memories of God dissolving before the moment can be recaptured: “because God has bitten his own tongue/ and the first bright word of creation/ hovers in the formless void/ unspoken.”
Dressed in more modern garb, Chicken Little still tediously trumpets his anxiety that the sky is falling. Certainly it is, we all realize that now, but who has time to address his concerns, caught in the busywork of special interests? Anyway, “whining is so unattractive.” In an effort to be taken seriously, Chicken Little is forced to start his own web site, TSIF- The Sky Is Falling.
“Bring Back Mom: An Invocation” is a paean to the mothers we have loved, reviled and turned to kitsch, the idealized mother as icon with feet of clay, once expendable but now a necessary component of our lives: “trying with all her might/ not to sink below the line/ between chin up and despair”; she is indispensable to our security, assurance that “the holes in the world will be mended.”
In “Orphan Stories,” Atwood displays the subtle wit that infuses her work: “Orphans have bad experiences…because they’re so tempting… because they’re so damaged… because they’re so easily broken… because no one will believe what they say” - and “because they are so erotic.” Not to worry, no insult implied. Orphans are, after all, the most fortunate of all: “It is you, not we, that have always been the children of the gods.” A wonderful collection, a worthy gift.