Sunday, August 26, 2012
"Cat's Eye" by Margaret Atwood
I'm a fan of Atwood's dystopians, but I'd never picked up Cat's Eye, which has been sitting on my shelf for years (must have bought it at a library sale or something). I was hesitant to read it now, but did so out of desperation, as the books I'd requested at the library hadn't come in yet and I had few other options. My reluctance came from the book's subject matter, which sounded dull. After reading I still appreciate Atwood as a writer, but I think my instincts about about what I'd think of the plot were right.
Cat's Eye is told from the point of view of Elaine, a 40-something painter who's returning to her hometown of Toronto for a retrospective of her art. As Elaine meanders through Toronto, she thinks back to her childhood and particularly her complicated and, at times, abusive relationship with her friend Cordelia.
Now, to be fair, this summary has no appeal whatsoever to me, so perhaps I was doomed from the start to dislike the book. Nonetheless, there were a number of things that bothered me. First, there's the melancholy, foggy tone which seems to characterize "literary fiction" and seems almost cliche. More irksome for me was the characterization of Elaine, who is portrayed as graying and aged when I don't think most people think of your 40s as ancient. I can understand that perhaps Elaine simply feels old, but other people treat her as dowdy and gone too, with a young journalist even calling her "crotchety" in the title of an article. Really? What 40-year-old is "crotchety"? If the book hadn't said otherwise, I'd easily have assumed Elaine was in her 70s or 80s.
Cat's Eye does have some interesting things about female friendship. Cordelia is horrifically psychologically abusive to Elaine when they are children, but they later become best friends as high schoolers without acknowledging the past hurts. Decades later, Elaine is in some ways still chased by her history with Cordelia and unable to move past the injuries. Elaine comments on how much easier it is to forgive men than women, something I can relate to. I can look back on old boyfriends with some fondness and nostalgia, deserved or not, but hold old grudges against girlfriends with fervor.
Atwood is a great writer, but the tone, structure, and characters of Cat's Eye just weren't for me.