Wilderness Tips

[openbook booknumber=”0553560468″]


In Wilderness Tips, Margaret Atwood writes ten short stories that are at once poignant and deeply disturbing. Each story illustrates one moment in a person’s life that changes them forever. They grow from young and idealistic to old and bitter in the space of a few pages and all of the stories ended up being dark in one way or another. They all carried themes of loss, missed opportunities, mistakes, dead ends and sad realizations.

They all took place in Canada, with some containing native Canadians and some transplanted from England or Europe. They almost all featured promiscuity and sexual affairs, often as the norm, and they all had one hard earned life lesson to impart. The tales spanned the decades from “the war years” of World War II up until the late eighties and early nineties and all of the changes that took place in that time. The women’s movement took special prominence in these stories as they described the changes they in particular experience over that span of sixty years of human history.

It’s the forties look,” she says to George, hand on her hip, doing a pirouette. “Rosie the Riveter. From the war. Remember her?”
       George, whose name is not really George, does not remember. He spent the forties rooting through garbage bag heaps and begging, and doing other things unsuitable for a child. He has a dim memory of some film star posed on a calendar tattering on a latrine wall. Maybe this is the one Prue means. He remembers for an instant his intense resentment of the bright, ignorant smile, the well-fed body. A couple of buddies had helped him take her apart with the rusty blade from a kitchen knife they’d found somewhere in the rubble. He does not consider telling any of this to Prue.
–Wilderness Tips

Choosing to pick up this book at Christmas time was a mistake, no one wants to read depressing stories at Christmas time. Ironically enough the very last story, “Hack Wednesday”, addressed that exact issue, while still remaining as dark as all the rest. Yes, this book was full of stories that had cutting truths, and hard edged life stories, but at the same time it seemed to overly focus on the negative, disregarding and discarding any positive moments instead brashly going on to create more negative ones.

Of the stories that struck me the most there was “True Trash”, illuminating the difference between the “dot dot dot” of romance in the war years and the sexually explicit romance of modern day. “Hairball” was also a disturbing look at the changing face of womanhood and what women have had to give up in order to get ahead. “Death by Landscape” was one of the more horrifying stories about a camping trip gone horribly wrong and the insight, or perhaps just blind stabbing hope, it left one of the campers with. “The Age of Lead” was especially poignant because it wasn’t until long after this book was published that the bpa-lining in plastic containers was discovered to be bad and that was just more of the same of the over arching theme in this story, making this one incredibly relevant to modern day.

While the themes may have been dark all of these stories had an inner kernel of truth that both you and the characters cannot escape. Time goes by fast, change happens, choices have to be made but it is ultimately you that has to live with the consequences.

In the end I would say this book could easily qualify for Women Unbound as well as it does for the A-Z Challenge, just because of all of the short stories with the over-arching theme of the changing face of womanhood and feminism. Though all of these women were incredibly bound in their own way.

One Response to Wilderness Tips

  1. EL Fay
    4:17 pm on December 5th, 2009

    The only Atwood book I’ve read is Oryx and Crake. I’ve been planning on reading The Year of the Flood but this sounds great too.

    I love that title “Death by Landscape.” I’ve also read Death in Venice (Thomas Mann), Death in the Spring (Merce Rodoreda), and Death in the Andes (Mario Vargas Llosa). Mann is the earliest one, so I guess he started the trend.

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