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THE TENT by Margaret Atwood


by Margaret Atwood

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2006
ISBN: 0-385-51668-1
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday

Top-of-the-head riffs, the majority occupying a peculiar middle ground between fiction and allegory, from the Canadian novelist (Oryx and Crake, 2003, etc.).

Most are a mere few pages, some are as short as a single paragraph, and all are as slight as their length suggests. Atwood’s sardonic humor flashes from time to time—“We’ve erected a few ruins, but they are not convincing, even from a distance,” mourns the inhabitant of an impoverished and remote fictional coastal community in “Resources of the Ikarians”—but occasional good lines don’t really redeem this odd amalgam of cranky musings (“No more photos. Surely there are enough”), slightly bent myths (Helen of Troy, married to a police chief, runs off to the city and gives interviews about women following their hearts in “It’s Not Easy Being Half-Divine”) and other peculiar workings of well-known material (“Horatio’s Version” of Hamlet, “Chicken Little Goes Too Far,” etc.). “The Animals Reject Their Name” and “Bring Back Mom: An Invocation” seem somewhat less weird, simply because they’re both in verse. Also reasonably readable are “Warlords,” a stinging depiction of society’s inherent violence, and “Winter’s Tales,” a funny portrait of an older narrator perplexing young listeners with faintly absurd recollections of the past (“there were no bare midriffs, and only sailors and convicts had tattoos”). But most of the longer prose pieces—longer meaning four to eight pages—are exercises in self-indulgence, from “Three Novels I Won’t Write Soon” (most readers will murmur “thank goodness” after reading it) to “The Tent,” which presumably is intended as a tribute to the creative process but merely annoys with its cloudy metaphors.

If Atwood’s name weren’t attached, no publisher would bother putting this trivia between book covers.