Friday, July 27, 2012

"And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon." Song lyrics

This is a gentle story that is partially a coming of age and partly about interpersonal relationships. It is the story of Elaine Risley.

Elaine is an artist who returns to Toronto for a introspective of her work. Her art work is based on her life -experiences so in learning about her life, we have an idea of what is behind her art.

The story is divided into parts with flashbacks into Elaine's childhood. Early on, she remembers growing up and constantly moving due to her father's position as a forest insect field researcher. Things stabilize when he gets a job as a college professor.

During the early days, her only companion and playmate was her older brother, Stephen. She longed for having friends of her own. Then, when the family settled in Toronto, she becomes friends with three girls.

Cordelia dominates the group. She's demanding and often cruel but the little girls accept her. Elaine is vulnerable,  too fearful of speaking her mind and goes along with whatever Cordelia demands. Eventually, Elaine takes a stand, only to fall back into Cordelia's control.

One of the other girls is Grace Smeath. Elaine is often invited to the Smeath household for playtime or dinner. They have unusual rules such as the number of tissues it is permitted to use after going to the toilet. Mrs. Smeath is one of  Elaine's favorite subjects in her art. In one of them, Mrs. Smeath is covered by tissues. In one of Elaine's shows, a woman enters the building and starts shouting about Elaine's art. Elaine thought this might be Grace Smeath but it just turned out to be a deranged woman.

Elaine becomes fascinated with women's issues and attends women only functions. She has a deep interest in the Virgin Mary and many of her art pieces are based on the Virgin Mary.

We learn of Elaine through her thoughts, her friendships, and interests. Her first art teacher also became her lover and this developed some of Elaine's feelings. Her husband Jon was a person who thought of himself first. He was also an artist but when Elaine's work surpassed his, his petty jealousy was easy to see.

This is a book that women might read and feel exhilarated in Elaine's success in coming out of her shell and becoming a success as an artist. Men might read this to understand women a little better.


Heather said...

I haven't read this one yet, though Ms. Atwood does have a large number of books published so it will take me a while to get to them all.

Jonathan Wilhoit said...

Margaret Atwoid is a phenomal author. Haven't read this one, so thanks for reviewing it!


Deb said...

When I read this book (admittedly some time ago) I found I focused more on the dangerous things Cordelia bullies the others into doing and how the complicated dynamics of childhood friendships play out into adulthood.

Michael Draper said...

This was my second reading of this book and I read it in a more liesurly fashion, taking in all of the literary excellence and character development. I enjoyed it much more than I remember I had.

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