Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cat's Eye

1988, 1989 Bantam edition
Margaret Atwood
Cat's Eye
Original price $5.95, purchase price 49 cents
Very worn paperback with splitting spine

There's an incident in Lady Oracle where Joan's "friends" put her in danger by a ravine.  It's played for dark humor, even though the girls aren't really her friends.  Or maybe because they aren't her friends, it's less painful.  Here the incident at the ravine is just one of many painful scenes young Elaine Risley's frenemies put her through.  The book is a difficult read for that reason, but it also adds realism, not unlike the believable pain of Her Mother's Daughter.  I think that is a much better novel, much more fully developed (not just because it's longer, since this is no slender book), particularly in the sections on the heroine's adulthood. (Atwood rushes through Elaine's life after the first year or so of college,)  I will say that I loved the Risley family, sane eccentrics in the sense that they've all got their unusual interests and (except for Elaine) don't care about conformity, which oddly makes them more normal (balanced) than the dysfunctional families of Elaine's "friends."  I also enjoyed reading about Elaine's paintings, in much the same way I enjoyed Anastasia's photography in the Marilyn French novel.

Atwood surprised me (yes, even on this rereading) by having Elaine not just finally stand up for herself, but also find compassion for her tormentors.  As a child, I was hassled and criticized by people who seldom pretended they were doing it for my own good, so I was able to distance myself somewhat.  Carol, Grace, and ringleader Cordelia actually seem to think they're trying to improve Elaine, although I wouldn't say they're without malice.  Atwood writes, "Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another, they are not cute. They are life sized."  That reminded me of Margaret Kirkham:  "...Everyone who has much to do with them knows that girls are not really much like angels anyway."

I'm not saying girls are worse than boys.  (The verbally cruelest kids at my elementary school were boys.)  But sometimes it's easier to forgive boys and men.  As Elaine suggests, we sometimes hold them to a different (often lower) standard.  She forgives her ex-husband and sees the two of them as something like war survivors, even if they were on opposite sides.  The problem with Cordelia is that Elaine isn't sure who's on which side, and who won, if anyone did.

Female friendship will get even more complicated in the next Atwood novel, The Robber Bride (1993)....

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