Good Bones

Margaret Atwood, Good Bones - Coach House Press, 1993

Read from May 27th to 30th 2013

Rating: 3 of 5 stars


Whenever you are overwhelmed by world’s bleakness, try laughing. It will fade, eventually, your laugh, but for a while it would give you strength to keep going. This is basically what Good Bones is about, from the image of the angel of misfortune who “When you’re feeling bad (…) scratches at your window” in the first story (Bad News), to the image of the bones as a symbol not only of our ephemerality but also of our inner (literally!) strength, in the last one (Good Bones). 

It’s true, the laugh, big in the first stories will dissolve gradually into sadness, as the narrative voice gives up ludic for parodic, sarcastic, grave, resigned, alien, in order to denounce stereotypes, turn upside down myths and literary figures, whilst dealing with themes in the semantic field of misfortune, such as:
- Misunderstanding of the drama clarified by the prosaic point of view of Hamlet’s mother who reduces the tragedy to some domestic discord and finally explains her presumed pathetic gesture: “I am not wringing my hands. I am drying my nails” (Gertrude Talks Back). 

  • Mistreatment (by the reader) of the ugly sister who proudly understands her narrative importance: “You can wipe your feet on me, twist my motives around all you like, you can dump millstones on my head and drown me in the river, but you can’t get me out of the story. I’m the plot, babe, and don’t ever forget it.” (Unpopular Gals)
  • Misogyny and misandry: if woman is often reduced to a Barbie doll image, the man can also be viewed only as a useful object around the house, that “When worn out, (…) can be re-covered and used as doorstops.” (The Female Body; Making a Man)
  • Miscalculation of the adversary: the alienation is double viewed in a sort of dystopia where intelligent insect-like beings study the ugliness and deficiencies of humans whereas the humans, aliens in turn on another planet, try to explain (and understand) their own humanity (Cold-Blooded; Homelanding).

Of course, there are also themes (other than the ‘mis’-words I enjoyed playing with) like alienation, loneliness, war, death, etc. that are put in various forms: monologues, essays, journalistic articles, mixing genres and styles, in a hallucinating merry-go-round of auctorial voices burst out from a wide-open Pandora’s box.

It seems that the only salvation from that disquieting scratch at our window is once again the refuge in art, the Aristotle’s mimetic but cathartic art, which teaches you to cope, that is, to die: “Ah lepers. If you can dance, even you, why not the rest of us?”

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