Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder

Quick--before Kakutani or Maslin can attack, before Updike writes an almost jealous review (like I share their audience...ah, delusions of grandeur....), as he did in the New Yorker with Oryx and Crake--Moral Disorder is an amazing book. It is difficult not to fall prey to suspecting it veiled autobiography, but I won't succumb. I will say Atwood's vantage point as an older writer gives the stories in Moral Disorder an elegaic tone, particularly "The Bad News", "The Labrador Fiasco", and "The Boys at the Lab." I think any reasoning person (granted, this rules out many of our fellow citizens) will find something to relate to in her stories of elderly parents and aging spouses. Mortality is everywhere in this book, and why not? Mortality is everywhere, period.

Atwood is mistress of many forms, but this, her twentieth novel, is her first foray into "linked stories", a style that had its shining moment in the late nineties, then waned. But because she is Atwood, and mightily talented, she makes the form fresh. Her sentences, always pithy, have grown only more compressed:

"Then she became afraid to walk, though she never said so, and then she became angry about her own fear. Finally she became rebellious. She rebelled against all of it: the blindness, the restriction, the falling down, the injuries, the fear. She no longer wanted to have anything to do with these sources of misery, and so she retreated under the bedcovers. It was a way of changing the subject." (207)

"It was a way of changing the subject." A Didion-worthy sentence summing up the horrors of aging better than any eldercare workshop, more pithily than social worker queries or glossy assisted living brochures. The truth is aging is usually a brutal battle with increasing losses. Taking to bed, turning your mind inward--what better response?

Moral Disorder and Other Stories is published by Nan Talese Books and should be available at your local bookstore, so long as you don't shop at Black Oak.

Authors, Books, Margaret Atwood, Review


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