Friday, June 11, 2010

MORAL DISORDER - Margaret Atwood

This book has been floating around my house for several months. I brought it home after the AC Adult Literati group read The Handmaid's Tale by Atwood. I was expecting another noir tale of the future but it was not to be. 

The book is constructed as a series of vignettes telling a life story.  But it is not simply a narrative. It is more like an episodic crazy quilt as the chapters are not in chronological order. The opening story is of an elderly woman and her aging husband, Tig.  She reflects on how they understand each other and how uncertain and scary life has become. In the next chapter the reader is transported to the life of the woman as an eleven-year-old dealing with a depressed mother, an absent father,  and preparing for the pending birth of a little sister. 

About half way through I began to get annoyed that I still didn't know the main character's name. All the chapters up to that point were in first person. Without warning the rest of the book switched to third person and her name was introduced as Nell. Nell's stories then switch between childhood tales of raising her sister, trying to keep her family in tact during her teen years, maneuvering the pitfalls of adolescence, visiting her mother in the nursing home as an adult, and coming of age in the 70s. She avoided drugs and gratuitous sex in college but drifted as a young adult on her own. When she finally began a relationship it was with her friend's husband but with that friend's encouragement. 

I enjoyed mostly the chapters of Nell as a young girl and an adolescent. Maybe because she was a bookworm even when the only book available was The Joy of Cooking and she memorized how to entertain with or without servants.

I liked getting a glimpse into the psyche of a person who lets others make all the rules and simply tries to keep things together. This character took on responsibility without question. For many years she looked after her sister both when she was a child, and again when she was a suicidal adolescent. She even took on the job of caretaker for her husband Tig's ex-wife when she felt compelled to. 

It was a gratifying read and short, so only an afternoon or so of my time. I recommend it. 

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