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Reviews Margaret Atwood. By Barbara Hill Rigney. (Totowa, New Jersey: Women Writers Series, Barnes & Noble Books, 1987. 135 pages, $23.50/$7.95.) Despite my interest in Atwood criticism, I felt some hesitancy about read­ ing an overview of Atwood’s writing that did not include her latest novel, Cat’s Eye. Yet nothing Professor Rigney writes of Atwood’s works is any less true in light of this book, which only serves to confirm the accuracy of Rigney’s analysis, and Rigney’s criticism in turn projects light on Cat’s Eye without even addressing it. “Nothing goes away,” proclaims the artist narrator at the beginning of Atwood’s new novel. Rigney comes independently to that truth about Atwood’s writing by way of thorough scholarship and a good eye. For Rigney, Atwood’s text is primary, whether it be fiction, poetry or essay. Furthermore, Rigney shows an impressive awareness of major critical works on Atwood’s writing. Though Atwood generally loathes critics, I think she would approve of Rigney’s method because she likes criticism to be “graspable,” not recondite. Clear and open as Rigney’s analysis is, she does ask that the reader be familiar with Atwood’s work. She sees the relatedness of Atwood’s oeuvre—sees it entire and helps the informed reader to do the same. Even though Atwood claims to have “an almost totally different” person­ ality when she writes poems than when she writes fiction, Rigney correctly observes that “Atwood’s novels and short stories are poetic in style and diction, and the poems have a distinct narrative quality.” Like Virginia Woolf, who was searching for a new form, working the novel toward poetry, Atwood suffuses her fiction with poetry. Her novels and stories almost accomplish Woolf’s goal. Rigney finds similar language, themes, archetypal images, myths and fairy tales recurring throughout Atwood’s work. Mirrors, drownings, photographs, images of amputation, and animal symbols appear repeatedly in poem and story. The theme of victim and victimizer, where the victim is always impli­ cated in her own victimization, is ever present, as are quest themes of death and rebirth. Other critics have noted these themes and images in Atwood, but none more cogently than Rigney. This little study is only 135 pages, but Rigney manages to address what is important. She also traces several images I have not seen in other critical works on Atwood—the pervasive fairy-tale image of The Red Shoes, for instance. With specific reference to Moira Shearer’s movie, where the dancer must literally dance herself to death, Atwood suggests the terrible choices that women face in matters of art or love. Rigney is correct, too, in observing that Atwood likes to conceal things. The novels, for instance, don’t always have reliable narrators, “they may lie to 372 Western American Literature the reader as sometimes they may lie to themselves.” Yet even her self-deluding, untrustworthy, damaged or ambivalent narrators manage to uncover truths. Atwood, as trickster-author, likes disguises, mystery, witchcraft; she wants her readers to do a bit of sleuthing. This does not mean that the reader must wade through obscure symbols and esoteric language. It is more like solving a mystery or a puzzle, more like Jungian analysis of complex layers of person­ ality, more like unearthing strata of meaning as in an archeological dig. Even language itself is suspect; “the true story is vicious / and multiple and untrue / after a ll. . .” Atwood writes in True Stories. Rigney never loses sight of the fact that she is dealing with a shrewd author—one who likes disguises for her characters and also for herself, “. . . that’s me in the dark,” writes Atwood in Murder in the Dark. “Just remember this when the scream has ended and you’ve turned out the lights: by the rules of the game I must always lie.” There is a mystery element in all that Atwood writes, and Rigney—she is a good detective. HELEN CANNON Utah State University Selected One-Act Plays of Horton Foote. Edited by Gerald C. Wood. (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989. xxviii+507 pages, $29.95/$14.95.) Horton Foote has become the foremost playwright...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 371-372
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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