Monday, March 19, 2007

Moral Disorder

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I am completely in love with the writing of Margaret Atwood. Her latest work, a collection of short stories entitled Moral Disorder does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

Moral Disorder is exactly the kind of writing that I like most. That is, it is domestic and intimate in scale, dealing with complex relationships without needing to concentrate on plot resolution. The more I read, the more I value character development above other aspects of writing, and Margaret Atwood excels at creating believable, interesting characters. Once these characters are established, the stories themselves seem to flow with ease.

Moral Disorder is a collection of short stories that loosely follow a woman's life. The stories switch perspective, from first person to third person, and capture different segments of time, from early childhood to retirement age.

Each of the stories in some way seems emblematic of the period in which it takes place. In the first story 'The Bad News' a couple react in different ways to the depressing news stories of an overseas war. Although it is the first story in the collection, it is the most contemporary. The couple, Nell and Tig, are in their late middle age and the news stories are reminiscent of current events in the middle east.

After the first story, Atwood jumps back in time to Nell's childhood and the stories move roughly chronologically from there. Each story is a snapshot: preparing for the birth of her baby sister, frightening her young sister with tales of monsters, studying a poem for school and the developing relationship with Tig, who is married with children of his own when they meet. Each of the stories are quite different but quite beautiful. One of my favourites was 'My Last Duchess' a story that combines the study of Browning's poem with a depiction of high school relationships. The female protagonist struggles in vain to explain the poem to her lugheaded boyfriend, who just wants to get it 'right' for the exam. All the limitations and the unsuitability of their relationship is revealed through their conversation and we know that it won't be long before the girl, like the speaker of the poem, moves on to the next lover.

I finished Moral Disorder with a feeling of contentment. Margaret Atwood has once again written a moving and beautiful piece of work and all is right in the world.


Dorothy W. said...

Hmmm ... I'm on the look-out for good story collections, and I've heard so many good things about this one. Maybe I should check it out.

jess said...

I'm not generally a great fan of short stories but this one really won me over. My other favourite writer of short stories is Annie Proulx. I find her stories are similar in scale to Atwood's.

verbivore said...

I completely agree with you about character development in writing. Its what I look for and what I find the most satisfying. Thanks for writing about this book - I've added it to the wish list!

Stefanie said...

Wasn't this a wonderful book? I read it not long ago and loved it. But then I love most things Margaret Atwood writes!

LK said...

Wow, that is some recommendation. I have Atwood's Bluebeard's Egg (I think that's the title) -- will have to look for this one.