|Margaret Atwood is either racing against time or just prolific. In the wake of her recent The Penelopiad and 2004s Moving Targets comes The Tent, a short collection of stories and narrative poems that runs just over 150 pages. Mind you, many of these pieces have already been anthologized elsewhere or published as one-offs for various organizations. And I should clarify the use of the word "stories" theres nothing here of the "Hairball" variety, but rather the kind of vignettes that would fit on the back of a shampoo bottle.
The unhealthy current of bitterness that runs through The Tent is, frankly, unwelcome, especially given Atwoods current bias towards idea-themed fiction that depends more on its intentions than its prose. Ever since Oryx and Crake, the literati have begun to get a bit suspicious nobody is expecting the second half of The Handmaids Tale (although I know many who would welcome one), but where is the renewed vitality of Alias Grace?
However, not all is lost. There are a few great pieces in this collection, such as the crafty little sci-fi excursion "Bottle" and "Orphan Stories," a smarmy, wickedly funny piece. This is what Atwood lovers relish about her work and it reminds us of the impact shes had on our national sensibilities.
But the majority of The Tent never jells as a legitimate collection and, worse, leaves you with the sneaking suspicion that some of Atwoods tropes have atrophied into a crusty, ironic confusion. Pieces like "Bring Back Mom" show no sign of the intellectual feminism shes cultivated over her career, and others, like "Post Colonialism," were best left unpublished. Im sure that, as this is being written, a new Atwood novel is on the way, and I hope that The Tent is just a cash grab, not a sign of things to come.
Readings from McNally Robinson this week: Rheostatics guitarist and author Dave Bidini will be at the bookstore on Thursday, January 12 at noon for an in-store signing of his new hockey book, The Best Game You Can Name. Bidini and his band are currently playing at One Yellow Rabbits High Performance Rodeo. Also on January 12, at 7 p.m., is this months instalment of filling Stations Flywheel Reading Series, featuring readings from derek beaulieu, Christopher Blais, Colin Martin and Julia Williams.
On Monday, January 16 at 5:30 p.m., Loraine Fowlow presents her new book on wine companies and designs from around the world, Wine by Design: The Space of Wine. On Tuesday, January 17 at 7 p.m., this months Ruby Tuesday Lecture Series discusses the University of Calgarys approaching 40th birthday.
A final sad note: celebrated Canadian poet (and one of my personal favourites) Irving Layton died on January 5 at age 93. Layton, whose sexual and misanthropic poetry caused considerable consternation among critics and readers in his day, provided a refreshing (if not always welcome) contrast to the usual verse about nature and love