Margaret Atwood’s Short Fiction
When you hear the name Margaret Atwood, you likely think The Handmaid’s Tale. Maybe you also think The Testaments, Alias Grace, MaddAddam, or The Blind Assassin. Atwood is a prolific writer of novels (Don’t know which to pick up next? Start here.), but to quote Rebecca Makkai in The New York Times, “if you consider yourself an Atwood fan and have only read her novels: Get your act together. You’ve been missing out.” Her latest short story collection, Old Babes in the Wood is an intimate look at a marriage through the decades as well as stories about a snail trapped in a human body, a mother who might be a witch, an alien entertaining quarantined humans, a séance with George Orwell, and more. These fifteen tales delight, illuminate, and quietly devastate as they look deeply into the heart of family relationships, marriage, loss and memory, and what it means to spend a life together. This is her first collection since 2014, but there are plenty more short stories that came before. Learn more about the other Margaret Atwood short story collections below.
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“Alphinland,” the first of three loosely linked tales, introduces us to a fantasy writer who is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. In “Lusus Naturae,” a young woman, monstrously transformed by a genetic defect, is mistaken for a vampire. And in the title story, a woman who has killed four husbands discovers an opportunity to exact vengeance on the first man who ever wronged her. Stone Mattress is a collection of unforgettable tales that reveal the grotesque, delightfully wicked facets of humanity.
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A brilliant collection of connected short stories stringing together several decades of moments in the life of one woman—as an ambitious girl in the 1930s, as a young professional coming of age in the uncertain ‘50s and ‘60s, and as half of a couple growing old together. In a series of vividly evoked settings that span cities, backwoods, and farm country, we see this woman contending over time with an unstable sister, a married lover, aging parents, mystifying stepchildren, vulnerable farm animals, and her own changing self. By turns funny, lyrical, earthy, shocking, and deeply personal. (If you love Nell and Tig in Old Babes in the Wood, meet them here.)
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Ordinary people—farmers, birdwatchers, adolescent lovers, elderly neighbors, pregnant women—are anything but ordinary in this splendid collection. A poet waylaid by an epic nosebleed; an awkward student trailed by an obtuse stalker; a jaded travel writer stranded on a life raft, finally facing a situation she can’t trivialize: these characters touch us deeply, evoking laughter, terror, and compassion. Punctuated by brilliant flashes of fantasy, humor, and occasional violence, Dancing Girls pays tribute to the sheer variety and complexity of human relationships.
A tenuous teenage love affair fails to survive a hurricane; a man notices the women around him becoming progressively paler and smaller; a surgeon who specializes in hearts seems oddly emotionally opaque to his wife; a middle-aged couple’s waning affection rekindles at the spectacle of rare Jamaican birds. By turns humorous and warm, stark and poignant, these stories probe childhood memories, the reality of parents growing old, and the casual cruelty men and women can inflict on one another.
The richly layered stories in Wilderness Tips map interior landscapes shaped by time, regret, and lost chances, endowing even the most unassuming of lives with a disquieting intensity. The past resurfaces in the present in ways both subtle and dramatic: the body of a lost Arctic explorer emerges from the ice, a 2,000-year-old bog man turns up in an archeological dig, a man with dark secrets marries his lover’s sister, a girl who disappears on a canoe trip haunts her friend many decades later. In each of these stories Atwood deftly illuminates the shape of a whole life.
Among the jewels gathered here are Gertrude offering Hamlet a piece of her mind, the real truth about the Little Red Hen, and a reincarnated bat explaining how Bram Stoker got Dracula all wrong. There are parables, monologues, prose poems, condensed science fiction, reconfigured fairy tales, and other miniature masterpieces–punctuated with charming illustrations by the author.
Meditations on warlords, cat heaven, and orphans, a sly pep talk to the ambitious young, a lamentation of the proliferation of photos of oneself, an apocalypse of worms, and Helen of Troy’s childhood Kool-Aid stand. In the title fable, a writer huddled inside a tent of paper engages in doodling as self-defense, scribbling on the walls in a frantic attempt to keep out encroaching horrors. A delightful mélange of short fiction that pushes the boundaries of form in intriguing directions, adorned with the author’s playful illustrations.