I have not been an Atwood devotee. I’ve forgotten the titles of the two books I read some time ago, but I found them and their characters dour and dreary and didn’t care to delve farther. Maybe I should have. The Tent, a collection of short pieces published in various periodicals over the years, is a unique and precious volume of, well, of what? The book jacket calls them literary essays, but no. Give me an “essay” word association prompt and I come up with “expository.” And these writings are much more than exposition. “Musings,” or “meditations” might fit. Some of them have strong narrative lines, even beginnings, middles, and ends like stories; but there’s nothing to say a meditation can’t lead to a story. So let’s call them that.
Whatever they are, they are exquisite, and they are often LOL funny. Crisp sentences, shrewdly crafted into miniature windows to reality, imagination, souls. Samples:
“I have decided to encourage the young. Once I wouldn’t have done this, but now I have nothing to lose. The young are not my rivals. Fish are not the rivals of stones.”
* * *
“The young look up at you, wide-eyed. Or maybe they look down at you. They’ve become very tall. How young are the young these days? It varies. Some of them are quite old.
There were no bare midriffs, you say, and only sailors and convicts had tattoos. There were no telephones, there were no vaccinations. so you couldn’t call the doctor when you were dying … if you had unprotected intercourse your nose dropped off, a lot sooner than it does now.”
* * *
“Salome didn’t come to a good end … Tried out for ballet school. Modern Dance was what she thought would suit her, show a lot of skin, centre your thoughts on the pelvis, bare feet, fling yourself about, but she didn’t get in. Left home after some sort of blowup … After that she took to stripping in bars, just to annoy [her mom and stepdad] I bet. Got whacked in her dressing room one night. right before the show. too bad for Management.”
You like cat stories? I hate them. Except for “Our Cat Enters Heaven.” Have your read “Chicken Little” Lately? Don’t plan to? Me either, but try “Chicken Little Goes Too Far.”
In all there are thirty-five jewels here that range from thoughts on Hamlet (“Horatio’s Version”) to writing (“Plots for exotics,” “Three novels I’ll Never Write,” et al). You won’t want the one you’re reading to end, but at the same time you won’t be able to wait to get to the next one. Yum.