This is my first experience with Margaret Atwood’s short stories, and overall I am pleasantly satisfied with these stories.
Like most such books, this collection of stories is a mixed bag. There are some excellent ones and there are some dull ones. However, throughout the quality of the writing is top-notch.
There are twelve stories in total and all of them are longish, which I like. Even in short fiction, I like some amount of character and scene setting. However well done, 2-10 page short stories rarely work for me.
Some of the stories like Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother, Hurricane Hazel, and Unearthing Suite are strongly autobiographical in tone. In these stories, Atwood provides us glimpses into her childhood. All three stories are pretty good, although the first one with its focus on her mother was my personal favorite.
I particularly loved this quote from Significant Moments in the Life of my Mother:
Some of these stories, it is understood are not to be passed onto my father, because they would upset him.
It is well known that women can deal with this sort of thing better than men can. Men are not to be told anything they might find too painful; the secret depths of human nature, the sordid physicalities, might overwhelm or damage them.
Men must be allowed to play in the sandbox of their choice, as happily as they can, without disturbance; otherwise they get cranky and won’t eat their dinners. There are all kinds of things that men are simply not equipped to understand, so why expect it of them?
Isn’t this something all women think secretly inside ourselves? I am pretty sure that men think the same of women too.
Anyway, apart from these autobiographical insights, there are a bunch of stories about women and their marriages/romantic relationships. The ones that stood out are:
- Loulou; or, The Domestic Life of Language – for the strangeness of the relationships depicted,
- Uglypuss – for the sudden abominably violent turn of events,
- Bluebeard’s Egg – for the complexity of the story and the literary techniques used in developing the story, and
- Scarlet Ibis – for its very realistic and touching portrayal of middle-aged spousal affection.
There are some other stories that I enjoyed too – Two Stories About Emma (highlighted a quote from this story here), which is one of the more light-hearted stories in this collection, another story I liked is The Sin Eater, which is about a man who is surrounded by women who are becoming smaller and more silent.
However, my all-time favorite among this collection remains Bluebeard’s Egg. I vaguely remembered Bluebeard as being some sort of menacing character and I love the way Atwood uses him symbolically in the story.
Overall, I liked this set of short stories very much. I loved the way simple incidents were related, and found that I could identify with many of the women in these stories.
The stories may not be for everyone though. I remember reading Atwood’s The Blind Assassin in my early twenties and was left utterly cold, but I think her writing grows on me as I age. I don’t think I would have liked these stories as much if I had read them in my twenties. I probably wouldn’t have the right mind-set to enjoy them. Now in my current introspective frame of mind? These stories were perfect.