The Tent

Published By: Nan A. Talese

Book Category: Fiction, Short Stories

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Reviewed by Michele Heather Pollock

Margaret Atwood has reached iconic status. Best known for her novels, including A Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin, which won the Booker Prize in 2000, she has an acerbic wit, pointedly criticizes society, and has again and again pushed the boundaries of subject matter and literary form. In her new collection of stories, The Tent, Atwood again attacks the reigning order, and in 30 very short pieces turns literature, history and expectations on their heads.

The first thing that strikes the reader is a question of form. Are these pieces poetry? Short swatches of memory? Flash fiction? A little bit of each of these, and more. Within this freedom of form, Atwood is able to explore everything from life stories ("The livers of the lives in question had their chances, most of which they blew") to a re-writing of the Chicken Little story, where someone finally puts the annoying bird "out of his misery."

Although sometimes uneven, the collection has some gems that make it well worth reading. The book is divided into three sections, and section two seems the strongest, offering up "Plots for Exotics," where a character learns he doesn't have what it takes to be a main character, and "Bring Back Mom: An Invocation," in which the description of the bread-baking, gingham-aproned stay-at-home mom manages to simultaneously make a feminist statement and create a guilty nostalgia in the reader.

Atwood has been writing for more than 35 years, and after that long of pushing against expectations, it has ironically become expected that she would do so. As writing has been her life in many senses, it is not surprising that Atwood turns her brutal gaze on that as well. These stories, especially, feel as if Atwood, as writer, is the narrator. In one story, she decides to "encourage the young." In another she lists three of the novels she won't write soon. And in another she says: "I was given a voice. That's what people said about me. I cultivated my voice, because it would be a shame to waste such a gift." Indeed.

Armchair Interviews says: Margaret Atwood did not disappoint!

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