Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dancing Girls and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood

I am putting Margaret Atwood on my list of authors to read more frequently, along with Wendell Berry, Edwidge Danticat, William Faulkner, Muriel Spark, Eudora Welty, and Edith Wharton. I also have a less serious list from which I frequently read, which includes Margery Allingham (it is hard to find Campion books in bookstores these days), Jo Dereske, Tony Hillerman, Charlotte MacLeod, Alexander McCall Smith, John Mortimer, Ellis Peters, and P. G. Wodehouse. As long as I have these in reserve, I should never be without a reading goal and should always be able to find something good to read in any library.
Back to Margaret Atwood. In 2003 I read the cataclysmic novel Oryx and Crake, which belongs on reading lists with Brave New World and 1984. Now I have read something completely different, Dancing Girls and Other Stories, a collection of short stories penned between 1971 and 1977. Unlike Oryx and Crake, which takes place in environmentally disturbed future, most of the short stories in this collection are grounded in the middle years of the twentieth century. When Atwood describes the apartments, the clothes, and the attitudes, I remember those years. Her characters are often short on funds, love, and hope, and all face moments of decision. Should they stay in a town? Should they stay in a relationship?

I particularly liked "Betty," a remembrance of a couple of neighbors from a young women's childhood; meeting the woman years later, she is struck by Betty's changes, making her question her memory. "Hair Jewelry" was easy to visualize as the young woman visits places I have been - Filene's Basement in Boston and the waterfront in Salem; its final paragraph includes the thought "banality is after all the magic antidote for unrequited love." Atwood certainly gives the readers something to think about in "The Sin Eater." The book ends with a realistic story "Giving Birth." None of the stories is longer than 30 pages. They should be read over several days.

Margaret Atwood is a prolific author with novels, short stories, poetry, and essays. I won't be running out of reading any time soon.

Atwood, Margaret. Dancing Girls and Other Stories. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977, 1982. ISBN 0671242490

No comments: