Monday, November 12, 2007

THE ROBBER BRIDE by Margaret Atwood

Today's guest blogger is Laura Benedict, author of ISABELLA MOON (Ballantine, $24.95) and co-editor (with her husband, Pinckney Benedict) of the anthology SURREAL SOUTH (Press 53, $19.95). Laura's second novel is due from Ballantine in Spring 2009. She and her family live in southern Illinois.

The Book: Margaret Atwood, THE ROBBER BRIDE. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1993.
First read: 1993
Owned since: 1993 (a gift from the editor, Nan Talese; she sent it after Pinckney told her I was a huge Atwood fan)

The Robber Bride is the book I pick up when I forget how to write. Sometimes, when I’m muddling through a chapter that never quite got started, or am dealing with a character who won’t get off her butt and do anything interesting, I have to refer to a real pro -- someone who makes it all look easy.

Zenia is a woman who creates chaos wherever she appears, and when she walks into a restaurant in view of three women who thought they had buried her many years before, she threatens the careful reconstruction of their lives. I’m in love with the complex structure of The Robber Bride. Atwood uses two storylines: the past, in which a young Zenia -- exotic and mysterious and seductive -- first causes trouble, and the present, in which a (not obviously) diminished Zenia tries her old tricks to again ruin the women’s lives. But now she is only as dangerous as the women give her the power to be. It’s a dense book -- some 460 pages. There isn’t a superfluous sentence in it.

I modeled the structure of my debut novel, ISABELLA MOON, on The Robber Bride. It was a mad thing to do, given that, when Atwood released The Robber Bride, she had already published eleven books each of fiction and poetry. I had only written two previous novels—both of which are put away where they can’t harm anyone or embarrass me. And I’m using a similar structure for my next novel because I love the depth it gives the characters and their stories. The Robber Bride is never more than an arm’s length away from my desk.

11 comments:

AnswerGirl said...

Thanks, Laura! I too admire THE ROBBER BRIDE, but I think my favorite Atwood novel is one of her earliest, THE EDIBLE WOMAN -- which will probably be an entry of my own at some point.

I had forgotten that Margaret Atwood wrote poetry until you reminded me -- and then I saw her latest volume of poems in a Montreal bookstore over the weekend. Canadian book prices (and the exchange rate) being what they are, I didn't buy it...

Moira said...

lol -- Clair -- I didn't read the whole post and was wondering why I never heard of all these novels you have written an hidden somewhere. Although, you probably DO have novels you've written and hidden somewhere!

I have a confession. I have never finished a Margaret Atwood novel. I guess they are to dense for my night time reading. I lose track of her complex narratives and give up. I'm an "Easy Reader."

AnswerGirl said...

It's guest blog posts all week -- see Saturday's post for the schedule, but I'l introduce each new poster separately.

THE EDIBLE WOMAN is a much more straightforward novel than her later work, at least in structure. I don't care for THE HANDMAID'S TALE myself, and her latest -- THE PENELOPIAD -- read like something that was written to earn a little Christmas money.

Anna said...

Thanks for introducing me to The Robber Bride, Laura. After I read The Handmaid's Tale I decided that I was done with Atwood but this sounds intriguing. Could this mean I'm ready to stop reading books with pink covers (thanks to the demands one my one-year old)?

Laura said...

I'm so thrilled to be here, AG! I loved The Edible Woman, too. But I was glad when she got away from the heavyhanded polemic.

I thought publishers had backed off on Canadian pricing!

Hi, Moira--There's a reason I've read her books so many times! LOL! I absolutely never get them the first time. You are not alone!

Hi, Anna--Books with pink covers? Now, I'm intrigued! Don't read Alias Grace--it's not one of her best. But you really should go back and check out some of her short stories, particularly given your toddler demands. Wilderness Tips is terrific!

AnswerGirl said...

You and I are going to have to discuss ALIAS GRACE at greater length sometime, Laura, because I liked that book a lot ... in fact, I was just recommending it to Claire yesterday!

Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed ALIAS GRACE very much--did I even read it on your recommendation, Ellen?! Could well be... another Atwood I found captivating: THE BLIND ASSASSIN.
Sue

Laura said...

I found The Blind Assassin a little puzzling at first, but in the end, I liked it. Maybe I need to go back and look at Alias, Grace. I confess I only read it once!

Anonymous said...

Laura: nice to meet you (virtually)--I completely agree on THE BLIND ASSASSIN... I only read GRACE once, too (in fact, I'm not a great "re-reader"--I love remembering books I enjoyed and leaving it at that; there's so much new stuff out there. On the other hand, re-reading does give one a new perspective-- much like "re-seeing" movies, which I also rarely do.) I must check out YOUR book...so much to do, so little time... Hey, Ellen, feel like meeting us in LA next summer? Been a while; would be nice to "re-see" you!
Sue

Anonymous said...

ps just noticed ISABELLA MOON is not available here in Germany until Feb. 08..oh, well...
Sue

AnswerGirl said...

I'll hook you up, Sue. As for Los Angeles, you know I don't make plans that far in advance ... but I always have a reason to go to Los Angeles, so I'll say yes to that. In fact, I'm going to Los Angeles today.