The One with the Canadian Summer Camps

Margaret Atwood, Wilderness Tips (1991)

I meant to read this book forever. Like for decades. I used to have a copy of this book in German, back when I used to speak fluent German and when I had fooled myself into thinking that I could read fiction in German (I couldn’t, and I definitely can’t anymore).

And then came the Handmaid’s Tale’s frenzy (I haven’t watched it yet, but want to), and then this short story collection found its way into my hands again (this time in English). There’s nothing dystopian about these stories, although there’s something about men and women relations in every story that says that men are generally not nice to women, and that women should be aware and wary.

This is most glaring in “Weight”, a story in which a middle-aged single woman tells of her best friend’s fate, who got killed by her abusive husband and who decides to extort money from other philandering husbands to fund a women’s shelter.

Several stories center on adulterous women and how they compete (or not) with the wife. In “Hairball”, the story that is most full of dark humor, Kat, the fashionable British editor of a Canadian fashion magazine, takes her revenge against her lover’s wife, whose mind she describes as mind “room-by-room Laura Ashley wallpaper, tiny unopened pastel buds arranged in straight rows.” In “Uncles”, a girl grows up to become a powerful, successful journalist, helped along the way by her uncles and by some men, and yet when one of them betrays her, she ends up doubting herself and doubting her own understanding of life, as if her success and power had only been granted to her by those men and not by her own value and skills.

Two stories of these collections are set in summer camps, “True Trash” and “Death by Landscape”. Summer camps are something of an American cliché, but although the kids find their stay idyllic, we get to see how what happened back then shaped them into adulthood, with their own fears and insecurities.

With the exception of Hairball I found that the collection had a nostalgic tone. It made me think of my own turning points moments or of my own misunderstandings. Highly recommended.

2 thoughts on “The One with the Canadian Summer Camps

  1. Another blogger I follow wrote about this collection recently too – maybe Ali, if you follow her? Anyway, you guys are making me want to reread all of Atwood’s short story collections. I read them ages ago and have forgotten all of them!

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