Margaret Atwood (on sadness, in fiction?)

I’m reading Atwood’s weirdly witty near-future dystopian nightmare trilogy of runaway climate, corporate takeover, canyonesque income disparity and biotech gone to its illogical conclusion. In the second novel, The Year of the Flood, an overused and under-loved young woman named Ren leaves a decent, if menial, job because there’s too much pain there. She goes, as a backup plan, to Scales and Tails, a strip-bar/brothel whose chief pimp, Mordis, at least appreciates her dance training.

Ms. Atwood channels through this hooker’s-minder-with-a-heart-of, well, maybe not gold but apparently harbouring more careful attention to and protection of Ren than her mother ever showed. (Heart of cynicized bronze, maybe.) Mordis remembers Ren from when his SekSmart Corporation interviewed her at a job fair hosted by her seedy arts college, the Martha Graham Institute. Ren has no illusions about the work she’s getting into, and has only one qualm:

“I said maybe I was too sad for the job: didn’t they want a more upbeat personality in their girls? But Mordis smiled with his shiny black-ant eyes and said, as if he was patting me:

“‘Ren. Ren. Everybody’s too sad for everything.'”


Margaret Atwood (1939- ) is a Canadian treasure, an astonishing force of literary nature, and a mighty voice for many expressions of global vision and humane consciousness. She’s also archly funny, even in the MadAddam trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake in 2003. Before Wikipedia told me so, I hadn’t known that she had a Harvard Masters, or Ph.D. studies there for which she did not (bother to?) finish her thesis. She’s finished quite a few other things. (I can’t link right now, but here’s something you might browse through with less rampant envy than I: ) She also has honorary degrees from, among others, Cambridge, Oxford and the Sorbonne. It figures.

Everybody’s too sad for everything. Damn.

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