Betty

I have read almost everything that Margaret Atwood has written. These days I’m interested in her short story collections, having begun reading Bluebeard’s Egg I marvel at the intricate tales she has woven within its pages.

Atwood has been lauded enough, and there are many young writers in Canada today who require attention; I will not argue, like many of my peers, that there is currently a black hole of talent, because that is simply not true. If you look for talent, you will find it.

What Atwood demonstrates when I read an opening line of a story is the lost art of dry humour. In her body of work that spans almost five decades, she masterfully parallels wit with prophecy, eloquently displayed in her dystopian novels The Handmaid’s Tale,  Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood. As she ages, her work progresses to other-worldly realms.

In Bluebeard’s Egg lies a short story called Betty, that reminds me why I love reading. Betty, observed by the young narrator, is a meek, sweet, unthreatening woman. In less than 30 pages Betty transgressed from a wife, to a divorceé to a singleton, to a woman dead from brain cancer.

What Atwood did was make Betty believable, in part because we have all known a woman like her. For me it was Lorraine, my mother’s best friend who I remember fondly, in spite of her many forgivable flaws.

But it’s not just a familiar character, it’s the gentleness of Atwood’s pen, the unflinching attention to detail and the unsentimental humanity of her prose that sets her a part from her contemporaries. She approaches her world with intricate observation, whether good or bad she reserves judgment.

Reading a good story is as comforting as cuddling up on the couch during a rainstorm and enjoying your favourite pinot noir.

It is, I’m telling you, it is!

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