Monday, January 15, 2007

2 Books Down & 3 to Go

On Saturday, I finished the second book on my From the Stacks Winter Challenge list. Moral Disorder is Margaret Atwood's latest book of short stories. Until a couple of years ago, I seldom read books of short stories, but then I read and loved Jumpher Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. Since then, I have tried to keep a book of short stories going while I read a novel. It's hard for me to read more than one book at a time, but if one is short stories, I don't feel like I'm neglecting one for the other. I wouldn't want to hurt a book's feelings. :-)

Okay, enough babbling. I was not surprised to find Moral Disorder an enjoyable read. I am a big Atwood fan. The Handmaid's Tale is one of my all-time favorite books, a book that I push on students every spring. Moral Disorder is a book of connected stories that tell the story of a couple's relationship. It begins with old age, goes back to the woman's childhood through adulthood and their relationship then ends with old age and childhood. All of these stories have Atwood's very enjoyable and intelligent biting satire.

Ultimately, this book of short stories is about how our lives are stories and, sadly, all stories and lives end. This passage is at the end of one of the later stories in the book: "But what else could I do with all that? thinks Nell, wending her way back to her own house. All that anxiety and anger, those dubious good intentions, those tangled lives, that blood. I can tell about it or I can bury it. In the end, we'll all become stories. Or else we'll become entities. Maybe it's the same." In the final stories of the book, Atwood shows vividly the effects of aging on our life stories. The main male character in the book's stories has had a stroke and his daughter, the narrator of his final story, tries to read him a story, but for him, "Stories are no good, not even short ones, because by the time you get to the second page he's forgotten the beginning. Where are we without our plots?" Such a simple question, but if you equate plots with life, that simple question becomes extremely poignant. I think Atwood has explored a relatively new theme--loss of identity through aging--or maybe it's just one that I noticed more because of my father's recent passing and his condition for the last few years of his life. The last story in the book is so sad. A mother, bedridden, deaf in one hear, is in the final pages of her life story and all that remains of her younger self is some remnants of stories that she told her daughter. Her story is ending as the book is ending.

Some miscellaneous passages that I liked:
  • In one of the early stories, the main character, a young girl, said, "We read detective stories and bought women's magazines, which we leafed through in order to rearrange ourselves, though only in theory." In this sentence, Atwood has definitely captured the appeal of women's magazines.
  • "She'd been in love, a state of being she thought of as wiping the mind clean of any of the soothsaying abilities or even ordinary common sense it might otherwise have had." I just love Atwood's humor, especially when it bites perfectly.
  • In one of the later stories, Atwood introduces Lillie, a real estate agent who seems to become a mother figure to her customers. The narrator of one story shares this about the way Lillie thinks: "Dead was not an absolute concept to her. Some people were more dead than others, and finally it was a matter of opinion who was dead and who was alive, so it was best not to discuss such a thing." Lillie is very much alive in this page. She is a great character!
I know that my review is not doing this book justice, but I really liked it and recommend it, especially if you like Atwood's other works.

Hopefully, I will be able to finish at least two other books on my Winter Stacks Challenge list. My grad school courses started this week, so I probably have no chance of getting all five done, but I will try.

6 comments:

Carl V. said...

Congrats on your progress! I have been doing alot of reading but not from my Winter Classics challenge pile...I need to kick it in gear!

danielle said...

I have given up on the challenge and am just reading whatever--I am a little annoyed at myself, but oh well. I want to read Moral Disorder--I love Atwood, too! I am not a big short story reader either, but I am going to try and read more this year.

Penny said...

A good review! As you know, I don't read enough contemporary lit--and your reading list always makes me appreciate what I am missing.

Valerie said...

I like your review! :-)

And hip, hip, horray! You are making progress in the challenge!

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