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Reviews Alias Grace. By Margaret Atwood. (NewYork: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1996. 468 pages, $24.95.) Margaret Atwood’s new book is part historical fiction, part murder mystery, and part social commentary. The story centers on Grace Marks, a servant who in 1843 was convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper in Kingston, Canada. After many years ofimprisonment in the penitentiary andthe lunatic asylum, Grace encoun­ ters Dr. Jordan. An eager student of the emerging field ofpsychology, the doctor con­ ducts a series ofinterviews with Grace inhopes ofmaking aname for himselfwith his study ofthe “celebratedmurderess.” Thenovel’sfocusonpsychological matterswillbefamiliartoAtwood’sreaders. In this case, part of the fun is the historical setting in a time when psychology included mesmerism and seances. Social commentary emerges inthe disparity between Grace’s internal monologue andwhat she tells Dr. Jordan. He sees Grace fromhis perspective as amanraisedinawealthyhousehold. Despite thedoctor’seducation andgoodinten­ tions, the life of a working-class woman is so far removed fromhis experience that he can’t comprehend her role in running a household, let alone her role in the murders. Their exchanges also lend a certain amount of humor, as day after day the doctor attempts to use metaphor and suggestion to find the keyto his subject’spsyche, while Grace persists inher pragmatic outlook. ToDr. Jordan, apotato suggests abody in the cellar; to Grace, it’s somethingtopeel, cook, andeat. Although the writing conveys an obvious modem sensibility, Atwood also estab­ lishes a strong sense of time and place. Throughout the novel, she sets the tone with excerpts from nineteenth-century literature and from historical accounts of the real Grace Marks. In addition, details about working-class life provide atmosphere as well importantcontext. Forinstance, thedescriptionsofGrace’sdailychoresasaservantand the grimdepiction ofthe sexual politics ofthe time provide insight into Grace’s char­ acter andmotivation. The novelbecomes somewhatpedantic at times, butoverall it is a fascinating story that will not disappoint Atwood’s admirers or others looking for an engrossingtale of sex, murder, andhousework. DANAWILLIAMS SaltLake City, Utah ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
p. 175
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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