Friday, February 26, 2010

Margaret Atwood Disappoints

Like many in town, I was excited to go hear Margaret Atwood. What a writer: I admired her most of all writers whose memoirs I have read. Her latest novel, Year of the Flood, I'd thought worthy of study--for the development of its future language (or lack thereof); for the theology of the God's Gardeners who are the meek of the future earth. And so I bought it in the bookstore right before the lecture, the better to get it signed afterwards: thrilled to part with my $29.17.

After hearing the author speak--a very short speech, it had the virtue of brevity I'll give it that--I felt disillusioned. Atwood tap-danced from her cute frizzy gray hair to her homely clay feet, giving little ego bits about her old school teachers and her own current fame and importance. She studied at McGill and then won a Woodrow Wilson scholarship to Harvard. Then later there was a Guggenheim, but all spoken in an offhand way as if it happened by accident. She made sure we knew about her greatness and then made sure we realized she wore it all lightly. I know, a genius doesn't want to show off; but the way she almost ridiculed her own talent made me feel I'd been a fool to value it to begin with!

The rest was standup routine: "Oh, we set off the sprinklers in the entire hotel," she laughed, when her agent lit a little (sneer) 'candle of gratitude.' "The English publishers at the party then hung out the window and cried to the firefighters, 'I love a man in uniform!'" (Tee-hee). She was recently inducted into the Harvard Lampoon; however her coterie of documentary-makers following her around (because she's just SOOO famous) had to wait outside (ha-ha!) . My impatience peaked when--in response to a serious question about whether technology has changed her relationship with her readers, Atwood retorted dismissively, "Oh, you never know who your readers are," and then segued into an obviously well-worn riff about her cell phone with whom she has "a relationship of mutual hostility. It deletes gmails maliciously" (Audience roars as she makes little thumbing motions).

Don't ask me why I feel this so keenly, but I do, both as a reader and also as a writer. I no longer wanted to own The Year of the Flood; I returned it to the bookstore and got my $29.17 back (Hah.) From a writer's perspective, I felt repulsed. Even in exchange for having Atwood's originality, industry, skill, and good luck, I would never ever ever ever want to be like that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write so well! Your critigue of Margaret Atwood is brilliant. And I imagine that it was written "in the heat of battle," so to speak, tossed off in your shock and anger, in protest! I so wish that our paths had crossed closer or more often.
Sarah Septuagenarian

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is "critique," not critigue!

6:15 AM  
Blogger Doc Bubbles said...

She sounds like so many of the writing faculty I've known. It's best really to avoid meeting people whose writing you like since most of them are a$%holes.

8:50 AM  

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