“The story of Zenia ought to begin where Zenia began. It must have been someplace long ago and distant in space, thinks Tony; someplace bruised, and very tangled. A European print, hand-tinted, ochre-colored, with dusty sunglight and a lot of bushes in it – bushes with thick leaves and ancient twisted roots, behind which, out of sight in the undergrowth and hinted at only by a boot protruding, or a slack hand, something ordinary but horrifying is taking place.
Or this is the impression Tony has been left with. But so much has been erased, so much has been bandaged over, so much deliberately snarled, that Tony isn’t sure any longer which of Zenia’s accounts of herself was true. She can hardly ask now, and even if she could, Zenia wouldn’t answer. Or she would lie. She would lie earnestly, with a catch in her voice, a quaver of suppressed grief, or she would lie haltingly, as if confessing, or she would lie with a cool, defiant anger, and Tony would believe her. She has before.”
The story of three women – Tony, Roz, and Charis – who are friends thanks to their separate involvements with a woman they all knew at college. Zenia is beautiful, intelligent, and incredibly, unbelievably evil. At the beginning of the story it’s established that she has died, but five years later the three friends go to lunch together and spot Zenia, very obviously alive. Shit proceeds to hit the fan in a very Atwood-like way, and it is amazing and terrifying.
This book is the evidence I will produce if people ask me why I love Margaret Atwood so much. Unlike other female writers, whose books are usually along the lines of Men Ruin Everything For Us (I’m looking at you, Joyce Carol Oates), Atwood takes a different tactic. Her male characters are, at best, naive and easily manipulated – more children than men. At worst, they are still children, but more like playground bullies trying to prove their own superiority. None of them are ever aware that behind their backs the women are moving in their own separate world, wounding and betraying each other and generally being terrifying bitches. Even the nice women have secret mean streaks that are guaranteed to rear their heads at some point in the story.
So in a nutshell, here’s my point: Joyce Carol Oates frequently uses men as the reason for womens’ problems (*coughBlondecough*) and clearly thinks they are naturally evil. Margaret Atwood, on the other hand, knows that women are a million times crueler than men can ever hope to be. To put it simply: Oates is a Lifetime Original Movie; Atwood is Mean Girls.
Verdict: five out of five stars