A good friend of mine is also an incurable Margaret Atwood "fan"
and has reminded me yet again of our shared benign affliction,
craving assurance that she still has first dibs on MORAL DISORDER
the moment I've soaked up the last word of the last paragraph of
the last story. "Buy it yourself," I chide her over tea. "We have
to support Canadian authors."
"But it's Margaret who supports us!" she exclaims in mock surprise
at my naiveté. And once again we marvel at how succinctly,
elegantly and inexhaustibly Atwood keeps on revealing "our"
ordinary little stories, bares (and bears) "our" secret little
griefs and anxieties, and gives wry sincerity to "our" hopes and
aspirations, no matter how tangled and threadbare they may
"Our," of course, refers to the collective and peculiar cultural
condition known as being Canadian. It matters not one iota to our
national great lady of fiction (both short and long) that most of
her readers live well south of the fabled 49th Parallel and that we
are no more The Great White North than Wal-Mart. For Atwood, mere
geography is simultaneously nothing and everything; in her tales,
the terrain of the human heart and its myriad tributaries of
experience and feeling are the truly renewable natural resources.
Or, as my hungry-to-borrow friend puts it, Margaret Atwood can turn
a tired and mundane junk-mail idea --- sibling rivalry, common-law
couples, hobby farming, teenage angst --- into soul-stirring
literature. Amen to that!
And she does it wholly up to form in MORAL DISORDER, whose rather
weighty and officious title is just another of those playful
authorial devices that belie this collection's true generosity of
spirit. Musing on a rainy afternoon, the friend and I decide over
our second cup of tea that the book's chosen title could have
mimicked any of the 11 lightly connected tales between its covers.
How about "The Entities," "White Horse," "The Other Place," "The
Labrador Fiasco," or (my personal favorite) "The Art of Cooking and
Each title presents itself as tantalizing, slightly mysterious, and
ready to give you more than expected, while still keeping back a
few secrets of its own. And that strikes me as being
quintessentially Atwood. At each turn in the fictional trail she
scratches down through an artfully assembled patchwork of
characters, relationships and events to show the persistence and
poignancy of truth just below the surface.
MORAL DISORDER is good for a week of rainy afternoons, and more.
Although we Canadians are known for being generous, my advice is:
Don't be too quick to loan this latest Atwood gem out. It's truly a
Reviewed by Pauline Finch on January 7, 2011