four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
user_rating: 
0

and Other Stories

A-Moral DisorderIn 11 interconnected stories that span six decades, Margaret Atwood explores a Canadian woman’s life in relation to her parents, friends, siblings, an English teacher, even a concentration-camp survivor. In the opening story, the elderly Nell must come to grips with an uncertain world. Back in time, an 11-year-old Nell, living in Toronto, knits clothes for her unborn sister Lizzie, who, in a later story, develops schizophrenia. After stints at universities and work as a freelance editor, Nell meets Oona, and through Oona, her lifelong partner Tig, with whom she escapes to a farm. After decades of caring for those around her, Nell confronts her parents’ old age by telling stories to her mother about her youth. "In the end," Nell says, "we’ll all become stories."
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 225 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0385503849

Boston Globe 5 of 5 Stars
"Each intense encounter builds on a shared and cumulative history between character and reader, and Atwood’s magic is such that we not only sense Nell’s psychological development over the course of these stories, but we mature ourselves as a consequence of reading them." Julie Wittes Schlack

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Before it becomes part of the canon, it’s just yours, the singular you, the one Ms. Atwood writes for. … Ms. Atwood is cunning with time, jumping ahead or behind story to story, and often within a story." Isabel Nathaniel

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"[Each story is one of many] dazzling miniature[s] which, taken together, offer a glimpse of a character, Nell, whose overt experiences parallel those in Atwood’s own life. … Moral Disorder reintroduces some of the props of Atwood’s other fiction: photographs, scrapbooks, memory." Betsey Willeford

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"Atwood gives us shards of a life, fragments viewed in close-up with empty space around them, but together they make a whole. … Underlying each narrative is wistfulness, whether for what’s been lost (the vigor of a parent, one’s own youth) or what has yet to be found (unconditional love, one’s place in the world)." Laura Collins-Hughes

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"This superb collection of intimately linked short stories more closely approximates the familial preoccupations of her Booker Award–winning The Blind Assassin, tracing one woman’s life over the course of many decades and exploring the web of relationships that shape her. … In these clever, tightly conceived stories, Atwood never fails to dazzle with a keen appreciation for the poetic possibilities of language and its ability to convey our most secretive selves." Geoffrey Bateman

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s billed as a short-story collection but feels more like a novel as it follows its characters from early in their lives into their twilight years. … There’s mystery here, and humor, and a tough brand of knowledge that can only come with age (Atwood is in her 60s)." Michael Upchurch

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The stories about Nell and Lizzie—‘The Art of Cooking and Serving,’ ‘The Headless Horseman,’ and ‘White Horse’—are among the strongest in the collection. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to enjoy in the other offerings." Yvonne Zipp

Critical Summary

Margaret Atwood has expressed her social vision, played with narrative form, and written about enigmatic women, sexism, and family in more than 40 books, including the acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, and The Blind Assassin. Her newest collection contains the same dazzling intellect, writing, and suspense as her previous fiction, but critics call this semiautobiographical effort more compassionate, rich, and emotionally resonant. The stories embedded in this novel of sorts, far from being randomly ordered, speak to each other and Nell’s personal growth as she becomes caretaker to her sister, husband, and parents. The only problem? "The stories are so compelling," admits the Rocky Mountain News, "that they leave us wishing for a fuller, more novelistic treatment."