From Publishers Weekly
Denaker's fine, deep voice and varied vocal range works particularly well with Atwood's sardonic humor. But her articulation is so perfect as to be disconcerting, often tossing impediments into Atwood's carefully wrought sentences. The first story begins with an elderly married couple, Tig and Nell, having breakfast and tea while discussing some horrific political murders occurring far away. This is the framework for the family stories to come. Nell's girlhood is dedicated to the tender care and feeding of her difficult sister. She perpetually struggles with the pleasure and resentment of her lifelong role as caregiver to her sister, Tig, his sons, his ex-wife and, finally, her own parents. Her life-like Atwood's book-is "a sock drawer into which a number of disparate things were shoved, a jumble." Apparently personal, perhaps even autobiographical, these stories are knit together by the "moral disorder" Atwood sees in everyone from one generation to the next.
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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 SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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