Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


The Tent by Margaret Atwood




(Mildly Recommended)




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The time one spends reading anything by Margaret Atwood is always enriching, and her new collection of short pieces, The Tent, meets those expectations. Compared with her long fiction, the stories, poems, and illustrations in The Tent pack a powerful and focused punch versus a well-developed plot and narrative. Here’s an excerpt, all of the story titled, “It’s Not Easy Being Half-Divine,” pp. 47-49:


Helen lived down the street from me when we were growing up. We used to sell Kool—Aid off her front porch, five cents a glass, and she always had to be the one to carry the glass down the steps, eyelids lowered and with that pink bow in her hair, and mincing along like she was walking on eggs. I think she palmed a few nickels, being hardly the most honest type. I know she’s famous and all now, but quite frankly she was a pain in the butt then and still is. She used to tell the worst lies said her dad was somebody really high up, not the Pope but close, and of course we teased her about that. Not that this so-called big shot ever showed his face. Her mum was just another single mother, as they call them now, but my own mum says they had another name for it once. She said they had goings-on at night around there, naturally, since every man in town thought it was being handed out for free. Used to throw pebbles at the door, shout names and howl a bit when they got drunk. The two boys, Helen’s brothers they were pretty wild, they took off early.


When she was ten, Helen went through a circus phase liked to dress up, thought she’d be a trapeze artist then she got close with the woman who ran the beauty salon, used to do her hair for her and give her product samples, and then she started drawing black rims around her eyes and hanging around the bus station. Fishing for a ticket out of town, is my guess. She was good-looking I’ll grant her that so it wasn’t surpris­ing she got married early, to the police chief, a prime catch for both of them as he was pushing forty.


Then just a few months ago she ran off with some man from the city who was passing through. Didn’t need the bus ticket after all, he had his own car, quite the boat. Hubby’s pissed as hell; he’s talking about a posse, go into the city, smoke them out, beat the guy up, get her back, smack her around a bit. A lot of men wouldn’t bother, with a tramp like that; but it seems he doesn’t believe in divorce, says somebody has to stand for the right values.


Personally I think he’s still nuts about her and anyway his pride is hurt. Trouble is she’s flaunting it the new man’s quite well off, set her up in some sort of mansion, her picture gets in magazines and people asking about her opinions, it’s enough to make you sick. So there she is, all diddied up in her new pearl necklace and smiling away as sweet as pie and saying how happy she is in her new life, and how every woman should follow her heart. Says it wasn’t easy when she was growing up, being half-divine and all, but now she’s come to terms with it and she’s looking at a career in the movies. Says she was too young to get married that first time but now she knows how fulfilling love can be, and the chief wasn’t, well, he just wasn’t. Of course everyone thinks she’s saying he was a nothing in the sack depart­ment, so there’s been some snickering up the sleeves, though not openly because he’s still got a lot of clout in this town.


The long and the short of it is, pardon my pun, nobody likes to be laughed at. The chief’s from a big family, a brother and a lot of cousins, all of them with muscles and tempers. My bet is things will get serious. It’s worth watching.


Some readers are likely to find The Tent quirky and generally harsh, and may want to get an Atwood fix from here longer works, rather than from the intensity of The Tent.


Steve Hopkins, April 24, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the May 2006 issue of Executive Times


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