Atwood's wide-screen, cautionary Handmaid's Tale (1986) confirmed the author's place in the major leagues, and here she follows up with a work of intensity and tart wit. Where Handmaid's Tale took a long, allegorical view, this latest shows Atwood working more familiar territory of nuance and character. Acclaimed artist Elaine Risley returns to Toronto from Vancouver to attend a retrospective of her work, and--as the show's opening approaches--Risley's memories of a bitter Toronto childhood blend with the exile's ironic asides about a new city up to its eyeballs in money and new clothes. Just why Risley hates Toronto so much becomes clear when we're introduced to her childhood friends. At the center of the group is Cordelia, a future bad-girl who leads the others in routine tormenting of Elaine. The subterranean world of childhood and the uncanny ability of children to inflict abuse on one another are superbly captured here, as is the sulky twilight zone of adolescence. As Elaine and Cordelia progress through school, the tables begin to turn, and in the end Cordelia--mentally unstable and confined to a "home"--finds herself at the mercy of Elaine. Along the way: finely drawn protraits of an emerging North American city in the 40's, 50's, and early 60's, with high marks going to Atwood's vivid depiction of the rituals of school, play, and friendship. All the better Atwood trademarks are here--wry humor, unforgiving detailed observation, a tart prose style--and likely to attract a wide audience.