Tuesday, July 01, 2014

A Month of Short Stories & Their Authors
July 1st: Margaret Atwood

now reading:
for a variety of reasons, too many books to get into here

Two things I can't believe: that I haven't posted on this Lit Supp blog since the day Maya Angelou died, and that the day Maya Angelou died was in freakin' May, more than a month ago. Where, time, June, where...? 

Well, that brings us to July, in which month I pledge to read a short story a day in addition to all the regular reading and other things that I am doing. Why? Oh, don't look too hard for a reason: this is strictly from the WhytheHellNot? files. I suppose you could say I was "inspired" (but please don't) by an online article I read that listed fourteen short stories (which the web site, Arts.Mic, called "brilliant pieces of literature") that can be read in the time it takes to eat lunch. Now, some people (hi Brian!) are unspeakably annoyed by all of the click-bait pieces that insist on two things: having a number in the title and being a list, but I kind of got used to that early, a few years back, when I was writing for About.com and they encouraged us to make list articles...I don't know what weird psychological thing makes people eager to read those, but pondering that is not our quest today. Our quest is to discuss the first story I read to kick off my month of stories, and also the author of said story. (And I suppose I have to confess that the handy article did provide links to the 14 brilliant stories they selected -- two of which I've already read -- making my read-a-good-short-story-every-day-in-July project very quick and simple for at least twelve of the days.) With no further ado, then: 

Today's Story: "Happy Endings"
Author: Margaret Atwood
My rating: B+

This story is short. You can read it in the time it takes to eat maybe a third of your lunch. If that. Like most Margaret Atwood writing, it puts its finger on some things that go on in women's minds and in women's interpersonal relationships, and in doing so, it slowly, emotionally builds so that the reader gets kind of angry at all the injustice in the world, although the author never seemed to have an agenda coming. 

The "Happy Endings" gimmick is that it starts out with John and Mary meeting, then goes through different "choices" of possible endings. But you don't really choose A, B, C, etc. You just read them all in a row, and that IS the story. 

Why do I give it a B+? I hate to be at all negative about my girl Margaret Atwood, but it didn't really blow my mind; rather, it's just a fun and you might say inventive little rumination on the prototypical male-female relationship. 

Like many, many readers, my first exposure to Margaret Atwood was The Handmaid's Tale. Unlike, apparently, many, many readers, when I initially read it (early 20s, L.A., had heard about it for years, totally wanted to finally read it) it struck me as remarkably anti-feminist. I know, what? I guess I was in bizarro-land. Maybe it's like when I recently read Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and it struck me as pro-military despite the fact that no one else evidently perceives it that way--maybe I'm just so far past this particular "Wow, the Iraq war sure was a horrible idea" political standpoint that where others see preaching to the choir, I see a tiresome placating...  Of course, The Handmaid's Tale isn't exactly preaching to the choir, as it was a bold, truly inventive dystopian imagining of Where We Are Headed (and with the whole Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, we may have been edged a little further down the path this week) that rocked a lot of people's worlds, but I just interpreted it as pretty much the exact opposite of what everyone else got from it and what Atwood herself is and stands for. Still really not sure why. I seem to remember it being really in favor of women having (and caring for) their own children and instead of picking up on all the male-control-of-women's-bodies I guess to me as the twentysomething renegade  that I was, it seemed to be just a big defense of women having and raising their children (and not doing anything else). I wish I could remember why else I hated it, but it really angered me - then.  

Now, naturally, as a literary-type person, I am aware that this is not the book's message at all. I get it. I may have even reread it later in Boston, because I specifically remember reading a Q&A with Atwood printed in the back of it in which she talked about how Dubya was basically exactly the image of her worst nightmares realized and how the USA was going to be led to its most dismal fate by someone spouting religious jingoistic nonsense, not overtly fascist Orwellian stuff. Bam! 

But before that, it was a different Q & A, a live one, in Los Angeles, that helped me see the error of my ways about Ms Atwood. We went to hear her speak at some UCLA event and I realized she was absolutely brilliant, in fact totally feminist, and pretty much the embodiment of wisest-author-ever cool. So I shook off my lack of Handmaid's enjoyment and moved on to other books of hers, enjoying: The Edible Woman, Lady Oracle, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake. I think I enjoyed The Robber Bride the most; I definitely still think about it a lot when contemplating the march of historical events. (Which I do often, while plugging away on my Prez Bios project -- we're now up to FDR.) Sadly, I don't remember that much about The Blind Assassin and I kind of want to reread it. I remember more the feeling it gave me and random images of it. I actually have a distinct visual setting that pops to mind when I think of each of those books. I did enjoy Oryx and Crake -- it was weird, but good -- and I want to read the rest of that trilogy (is it a trilogy now? Just the three?) 

It's actually been a few years since I've read an Atwood book. I still mean to read lots more of her stuff. I try keep up on her in the news and on the internet, more or less. Margaret Atwood is awesome. I don't know why on Earth The Handmaid's Tale came across so differently to me than the rest of the world, but I do know that a lot of feminist truths Atwood speaks are things that I take as absolute givens on Earth; maybe that had something to do with it. I definitely feel inspired to read another Atwood or two this summer, to raise them up a few notches on my oh-so-long to-read list. 

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