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.