Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Author: Margaret Atwood
Format: Hardcover, 446 pages, First ed.
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pub Date: March 26, 1999
To decide to enter the fictional world created by Atwood is to willingly submerge yourself into the psyche of her protagonist – because that’s the power of her work. Regardless, of how unwilling you think you may be in becoming drawn into her story and/or stories—I pluralize this because she usually has more layers than one—you will have no choice, but become hypnotized or embodied by the world she creates in her fiction because the voice of her narrative is always so strong.
When I say strong, I’m not referring to the tone of voice or the strength of the characters themselves—though this may very well be true of them—I’m referring to the power of her narrative because the voice she writes in—this inner dialogue—is able to excavate marvellous truths with such clarity, originality, and precision.
Atwood is able to write with not only keen insight and provocative subject matter, she isn’t afraid to offend you with jarring, raw imagery, language, or context. It’s intentional in so far as she deliberately resists being conformed by stereotypical ideas or dogmas. What you expect to happen in novels in how characters are meant to evolve does not happen in the same way in Atwood’s work. The rest comes from a well of either brutal honesty and truth on the part of the writer or the complete professional wizardry performed in the “magic” that Atwood creates with the written word – or both, except there are no tricks with Atwood.
Magic denotes supernatural forces that flow out from nowhere, giving neither its master control nor credit. Atwood’s artistry is magical in that she cannot be duplicated. But her manipulation of the language, her word power and passion for it, and story writing and “showing” – not “telling” is accurately and expertly devised. It is without a doubt, a natural, gifted, and crafted talent. And a dedication to doing the work.
And I think that’s part of the reason why she’s just as resented superficially on a global scale as she is worshipped – the fact that she has been reigned as an iconic, Canadian, female writer and artist. The irony here, is that her ambition, drive, and self-confidence is what probably brought her to the iconic stratosphere, and no doubt, her natural talent as well—but this exact kind of attention and glorification is what Atwood, I think, abhors—and yet at the same time, on some atomic level, demands.
But this inner requirement is not her focal point – it’s not the driving force in her writing or why I think she writes. It’s the compulsion. Writing, for any good writer—for any writer worthy of being acclaimed as having one ounce or more of talent—is driven by it.
The words must come out. The story must be written down. There are no extravagant plans or blueprints. There is no trickery or shortcuts. There is only always: the writer, the compulsion, and the white page – and then the writing itself.
A writer need not have “good” muses or even “many” muses. A good writer need only a supersonic ear to listen to the inner rhythm of language – but most importantly, a “seeing” eye that understands something others know, but cannot articulate. A good writer cannot be taught or bred, but be born of an instinctive talent – and then in ruthless dedication, work in solitude for many hours at a time and finally in years to sharpen his or her: 1) craft, 2) pencils, and 3) ego.
You cannot teach talent. You cannot imitate authenticity. You cannot counterfeit gold and expect to get your dollars’ worth. A bad writer cannot impersonate good writing. You cannot be a fraud. You either have it or you don’t. And if you do, then it’s not a matter of luck or literary providence – it’s a matter of tenacity, 10-inch-thick skin, a great agent, and a receptive audience. Anything else is fluff and trimmings.
Atwood is one of the privileged few who seem have “it” all. But, give her credit, too. She’s worked hard to climb the iconic ladder with an albatross of work – 51 titles in total (I know, I counted) that as a list spans a full two pages over a number of years. Many writers are born with this elusive “it,” but don’t have the confidence or the stamina needed to create the work required to be recognized by both the literary community and by those outside of it. Atwood just turned 72.
And she’s resisted the stereotype that writers – that artists, especially female writers, require self-deprecation, dramatic mental or physical illnesses, a man, or a manic disposition that inevitably leads to suicide or mysterious death. Atwood is no Plath.
So kudos to you, Atwood. Have another glass of red wine. You’ve heard it all before. Yes, so your stories and your characters are dark, sombre, and cynical. I’ve even heard from other people, that your work is “downright depressing.” Damn right, it is! But it is also intelligent, poetic, stark, and dead-on.
Maybe you are, too: dark, sombre, cynical, downright depressed. But, maybe you continually re-invent yourself and shape shift into who you need to be depending on the weather, your mood, or who is interviewing or critiquing your work. Maybe you re-invent yourself not only in your stories, but in order to cover your scent from public reviewers and critics, like myself, who hunt you down with pigeon holes. I get it – I think.
Writing is the most vulnerable art available. There is a miniscule divide between the writer and the work. Good fiction is at its heart a microcosmic truth. Somewhere hidden behind commas, periods, and exhilarated exclamation points, it’ll hammer you on the head. That is, if you can read. (Sorry, my internal literary snob just gave me a drop-kick.)
You either love Atwood’s work or hate it. For some of you, you won’t even tolerate trying to understand it. But there is no in-between, no grey area, no fence to sit on. Atwood makes you choose.
And she does so, in her novel, “Cat’s Eye.”
(I’d go into slight detail “about” the story, but that’s what I believe inside flaps are for. Okay, okay…I’ll give you a hint: Elaine Risley.)
Go out, borrow or buy the book. Borrow or buy all her books.
Be star struck.