Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood

Murder in the Dark is a little book of journal scratchings. Some might call them prose poems, others might call them micro-essays, experimental short stories, or newspaper columns. Atwood’s ideas are intelligent, but in their current form I doubt they’d make it out of the slush pile without her Can-Lit name. It makes me jealous. It makes me sad, that our current artistic system marshals attention and resources towards precious few big names because nobody would read this book if it was written by someone at the beginning of their career. The bar is set pretty high for new writers, and it feels like the bar is set much lower for Margaret Atwood.

(Photo: Amy Attas)

“It’s time to like men again. Where shall we begin? …for most of us, especially the beginners, it’s best to start with the feet and work up. To begin with the head and all it contains would be too suddenly painful… The feet then. I give you the feet, pinkly toed and innocuous. Unfortunately you think of socks, lying on the floor, waiting to be picked up and washed. Quickly add shoes. Better? The socks are now contained, and presumably clean.”

There’s a confidence to this writing that feels unwarranted, but maybe that’s because I’ve grown tired of Atwood’s arrogance on Twitter. Maybe it’s unfair to judge this book from 1983 on the behaviour of the author in (most specifically) the Galloway/UBCaccountable affair of 2017. The feminism of Murder in the Dark also feels tight and uncomfortable. Like Atwood’s got it all figured out as a 44 year-old in 1983. Where is the questioning? The room for dissenting voices, for fat women and black women, queer women and Bulgarian women? There is a finality to Atwood’s opinions that irks me.

Still, there are moments of light, of insight. Moments where it feels like Atwood has made space for me in a world formerly dominated by men who told women to keep quiet and do the dishes.

“It was the heat that made things blue like that, rage, I went into the waste orchard because I did not want to talk to you or even see you, I wanted instead to do something small and useful that I was good at. It was June, there were mosquitoes, I stirred them up as I pushed aside the higher stems, but I didn’t care, I was immune, all that adrenaline kept them away, and if not I was in the mood for minor lacerations. I don’t get angry like that any more. I almost miss it.”

So I should feel grateful to Margaret Atwood for proving that Canadians can be world-class artists, for striking down a few bad men so later feminists can strike down a few more, for so accurately describing a rage that leaves me in the mood for minor lacerations.

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