Shit. I’d danced right through the broken glass, in my bare feet too. Some butterfly. I limped into the main room, trailing bloody footprints and looking for a towel. I washed my feet in the bathtub, the soles looked as if they’d been minced. The real red shoes, the feet punished for dancing. You could dance, or you could have the love of a good man. But you were afraid to dance, because you had this unnatural fear that if you danced they’d cut your feet off so you wouldn’t be able to dance. Finally you overcame your fear and danced, and they cut your feet off. The good man went away too, because you wanted to dance.
But I chose the love. I wanted the good man; why wasn’t that the right choice? I was never a dancing girl anyway. A bear in an arena only appears to dance, really it’s on it’s hind legs trying to avoid the arrows.
So says Joan Foster the main character in Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle. A woman who, in her own words, planned her death much more carefully than she planned her life.
I have a lot of Atwood on the shelves here at the Shaky Shack and I finally decided it was time to take one out for a spin. I thought I had read this one before but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I hadn’t. I’ve just been … carrying it around for a long time. I do that sometimes.
I’m a firm believer in the “right time” to read a book. Not all books. Some books can just be chomped down on any old time, lips licked and on we go. They can be read on the run, between bus stops, standing in line, just before we drift off to sleep. I like some of those books. I also like books that are a bit…. heftier and seem to call out for a longer, quieter stretch. This one felt like that.
I picked it up on a snowy blowy night when the thermometer dipped below -30C. I made some tea, topped it off with some baileys and curled up by the fire.
I forget, sometimes, how witty Atwood is. And how wonderful and terrifying her worlds are. Wonderful because they are peopled with the most amazing and seemingly improbable characters who are…. us. That’s the terrifying part.
For a while, in university, I wanted to… rebel against Atwood. I can’t even remember why. Probably something bizarre like… she was so popular, and smart and … middle class. I thought. Upper class even. How dare she be! Ahh… youth.
I began a paper on Surfacing for a wild class with Douglas Freake at York University. It was one of those classes that takes a whole bunch of seemingly disparate knowledge and interests and …. folds them all together somehow. It was a humanities class where we pulled apart advertising, pop culture, literature, film, music… all manner of things created by humans. I remember sitting there, near the end of the year, thinking… this is OUTSTANDING. I felt, for a few days, that I was brilliant. That I could suddenly see how the world worked. That all the sh*t I studied in all those other classed finally made sense. Part of this ecstasy came from working on the essay about Surfacing.
I set out to… rip that book apart. To rip Atwood apart, I suppose. To take her to task for… something. To expose her as a faker, a fraud, a soulless darling of the intelligentsia. I was in third year uni. I was more than a bit MAD if you can’t tell. I went in all guns blazing and… Atwood conquered me. The deeper I dug, the more fantastic the book seemed to become. I ended up doing a complete u-turn and singing her praises to the rafters. I was SCHOOLED.
I have the urge to do the same with this one. But I feel… weak and wobbly in my brain. Unable to offer up anything smart, or even witty, let alone INSIGHTFUL.
So, for now, I will just say. This is a good one. It’s chock full of layers and honesty and more than a few giggles.
It is the story of a life lived… almost by accident. A woman who follows the wind and becomes whatever the people she runs into want her to be. Joan Foster is many things, to many people. I finished the book with the hope that she will now, finally, be… herself. In all it’s fullness. With all it’s contradictions and complexities.
May she, and we, find our way to living life for our selves instead of others. To living with intent.
One more tasty quote to tempt you….
Where was the new life I’d intended to step into, easily as crossing a river? It hadn’t materialized, and the old life went on without me. I was caged on my balcony waiting to change. I should take up a hobby, I thought, make quilts, grow plants, collect stamps. I should relax and be a tourist, a predatory female tourist and take pictures and pick up lovers with pink nylon ties and pointy shoes. I wanted to unclench myself, soak in the atmosphere, lie back and eat all the flapdoodles off the tree of life, but somehow I couldn’t do it. I was waiting for something to happen, the next turn of events (a circle? a spiral?) All my life I’d been hooked on plots.
I too have always been hooked on plots.
I just think we ought to be the authors, and heroines, of our own stories. That’s all. And I know M. Atwood agrees.
go easy ~p