Thursday, July 10, 2008

Murder in the Dark

I just finished another book of short stories by Margaret Atwood called Murder in the Dark. These are short, short stories, and I finished the slim volume in a matter of hours all together, but it really took several days because after each story I had to close it and think about it for a while.

This 1983 book blew my mind kind of like her more recent Moral Disorder did. It's strongly feminist (natch), with a lot of rather virulent (but right on) reactions to patriarchy. "Simmering" is a story about men taking over the kitchens of the world (it begins, "It started in the backyards.") and then turning cooking into a masculine act and a type of supremacy. As if to say, it doesn't matter if we change the traditional gender roles, men will find a way to turn it into a power play.

Several stories, like "Women's Novels" and "Happy Endings" address books and the reading and writing of books. If the term chick lit had been invented then, it would have been in "Women's Novels", where Atwood brilliantly plays with simple language in a way that's both hilarious and insightful:
Men's novels are about men. Women's novels are about men too but from a different point of view. You can have a men's novel with no women in it except possibly the landlady or the horse, but you can't have a women's novel with no men in it. Sometimes men put women in men's novels but they leave out some of the parts: the heads, for instance, or the hands. Women's novels leave out parts of the men as well. Sometimes it's the stretch between the belly button and the knees, sometimes it's the sense of humour. It's hard to have a sense of humour in a cloak, in a high wind, on a moor.

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