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An intriguing patchwork of poignant episodes, Atwood's latest set of stories (after The Tent) chronicles 60 years of a Canadian family, from postwar Toronto to a farm in the present. The opening piece of this novel-in-stories is set in the present and introduces Tig and Nell, married, elderly and facing an uncertain future in a world that has become foreign and hostile. From there, the book casts back to an 11-year-old Nell excitedly knitting garments for her as yet unborn sister, Lizzie, and continues to trace her adolescence and young adulthood; Nell rebels against the stern conventions of her mother's Toronto household, only to rush back home at 28 to help her family deal with Lizzie's schizophrenia. After carving out a "medium-sized niche" as a freelance book editor, Nell meets Oona, a writer, who is bored with her marriage to Tig. Oona has been searching for someone to fill "the position of second wife," and she introduces Nell to Tig. Later in life, Nell takes care of her once vital but now ravaged-by-age parents. Though the episodic approach has its disjointed moments, Atwood provides a memorable mosaic of domestic pain and the surface tension of a troubled family. (Sept. 19)
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Atwood's brilliant and bracing novels appear apace, yet it's been 15 years since her last short story collection, Wilderness Tips. Atwood now returns to the form in a book of interconnected tales that span the life of a skeptical, stoic, book-loving woman named Nell. Swooping back and forth in time and mordantly assessing everything from fashion to the counterculture to real estate, Atwood touches down to illuminate Nell at age 11, knitting furiously while awaiting the arrival of an unexpected sibling. Lizzie turns out to be an exceedingly anxious child, and their exhausted mother leans too heavily on Nell for help. At once fascinated and repelled by the domestic arts, Nell strives to remain unencumbered during her sojourns as an "itinerate brain" at various universities, fending off married academics until she finally falls for one. Tig's dreadfully imperial wife, mother of his two sons, plagues them even after they flee to a farm, where Tig and Nell live in a fever of hard work and earthy sensuousness. Atwood's meticulous stories exert a powerful centrifugal force, pulling the reader into a whirl of droll cultural analysis and provocative emotional truths. Gimlet-eyed, gingery, and impishly funny, Atwood dissects the inexorable demands of family, the persistence of sexism, the siege of old age, and the complex temperaments of other species (the story about the gift horse is to die for). Shaped by a Darwinian perspective, political astuteness, autobiographical elements, and a profound trust in literature, Atwood's stories evoke humankind's disastrous hubris and phenomenal spirit with empathy and bemusement. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.