Sat. Mar 25th, 2023

Book cover

Atwood is, of course, one of the most celebrated Anglophone writers working today. She has been nominated for the Booker Prize six times and has won it twice—for The Blind Assassin (2000) and The Testaments (2019). The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) is a groundbreaking work of science fiction that should be on anybody’s list of the best—or, at least, most important—books of the 20th century. Her new collection of short stories is a mixed bag. The first section is a series of interconnected narratives centered around married couple Tig and Nell. “First Aid” begins with Nell coming home to find a trail of blood leading from an open front door into the kitchen. It ends up being a sweetly melancholy meditation on living in a world designed to kill us. “Two Scorched Men”—Nell’s account of getting to know two World War II veterans who are friends while she’s in France—is a fine story but an odd fit with the preceding work. In “Morte de Smudgie,” Nell rewrites Tennyson’s elegy for King Arthur for her dead cat, and the less said about this, the better. The middle section of this book is a hodgepodge of pieces that feel like experiments, exercises, and false starts. It’s hard to escape the feeling that they are gathered here simply to fill enough pages to make a book of reasonable length while the Hulu series based on Atwood’s greatest work is still in production—or while the author is still semi–internet famous for creating a Twitter flap about gender. This is too bad because, when Atwood returns to Nell and Tig, she offers a powerfully affecting quartet of stories in which Nell navigates widowhood—the best of these is the eponymous story that first appeared in the New Yorker.

By cb2gp