Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Tent by Margaret Atwood

A publisher’s blurb on the back cover of the paperback edition calls this book “A delightfully pointed mélange of fictional pieces.” But I disagree. These short – sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always poignant – pieces are far too poetic to deserve the title of “fictional pieces.”

I love Margaret Atwood. I have loved her since I read The Handmaid’s Tale some 20 plus years ago. I loved her when I drove six hours in an old, beat-up Chevy toting a pile of books to hear her read at the Harvard Book Store Café in Boston. She graciously signed all eight, and she smiled, and she thanked me, and I loved her more.

Shamefully, I have not read much by her the last couple of years, but The Tent is the first step in remedying that situation. This slim volume contains so many of her thoughts and musings, her streams of consciousness, so much of her humor, her intelligence, I hardly know where to begin describing anything on these pages.

My favorite piece is the eponymous entry, and it begins:

“You’re in a tent. It’s vast and cold outside, very vast, very cold. It’s a howling wilderness…But you have a candle in your tent. You can keep warm” (143).

“The trouble is, your tent is made of paper. Paper won’t keep anything out. You know you must right on the walls, on the paper walls, on the inside of your tent. You must write upside down and backwards, you must cover every available space on the paper with writing” (144).

“Wind comes in, your candle tips over and flares up, and a loose tent-flap catches fire, and through the widening black-edged gap you can see the eyes of the howlers, red and shining in the light from your burning paper shelter, but you keep on writing anyway because what else can you do?” (146).

I guess the paper tent could not protect her from fans toting bags of books either. Get this book and read it now. That’s an order! 5 stars.

--Chiron, 6/21/09

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