Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Moral Disorder

  A few months ago I read “Moral Disorder” by Margaret Atwood. It is a collection of short stories that share the same characters at different stages of their lives.

 The first story starts with the scene of an eight-year -old girl knitting an outfit for her baby sister who is due to be born in a few months. Later in life, you will find this same character (Nell) knitting a quilt. The patches that make up the quilt have different colors and appear to represent the memories or phases of her existence. I believe Atwood uses the quilt as a metaphor, and the act of crafting it may have something to do with Nell's purpose in life, and it alludes to Penelope, the wife of Odysseus.

   By putting together so many stories and experiences Atwood explores a vast array of situations that make us laugh, cry and think.  She brings to light the bittersweet side of life; she sees through the drama and encourages us to ask questions, but in doing so, she takes us back to our own childhood and to examine our life. 

  I enjoyed the narrative of the young girl who is enthralled by her literature teacher. The teenager’s arguments and literary conversations with her boyfriend are hilarious.  I noticed that later in life this assertive teenager who becomes a woman undergoes a transformation. She dates a man who already has a wife and two kids, so her parents ostracize her and then she is not even taken seriously by her new family: she ends up under the control of the man she loves and of his ex-wife.

  I believe Nell is not the person that she was meant to be, but the person that society shaped and molded out of her. There are many situations to illustrate this but I will let the reader explore them. It took me a few months to come to this conclusion.

 One of the most touching scenes I remember from this book is that of this woman interacting with her aging parents. Atwood captures the sadness and the tenderness that mingle in their interactions. She unleashes the longings of those moments in which you feel lonely because you are convinced that nobody would understand what you are going through. She does what a brilliant writer is expected to do: she puts into words what you are unable to say yourself when you are overwhelmed by emotions.

 Another case that stayed with me is the one of Lizzie. Unlike her sister, Lizzie was a bit eccentric and did not acquiesce to the rules so well. She suffered from anxiety and when she sought medical help a physician misdiagnosed her with schizophrenia and put her on antipsychotics. Lizzie had all the side effects of it and could not even go to work. To make matters worse she was neglected by this same physician whose dehumanized approach to the art of medicine left me flabbergasted. Thankfully, things improve when when a second physician is consulted. This case reminds me of Janet Frame, a New Zealand writer who was also misdiagnosed with schizophrenia due to her personality. The doctors wanted to do a lobotomy on her. Janet Frame fled from the procedure and later succeeded in her literary career.

   Margaret Atwood will make you laugh, but she will also swim through the gloom of various life situations, navigating the alienation of the main characters with an economy of style that captivates the reader.  She punches your heart and leaves you pondering for months. 

I also recommend her poetry book (Margaret Atwood's selected poetry 1976-1986) because it complements some of the tales that appear in "Moral Disorder"; it will help you to comprehend them better and to broaden your perspective on them.

I will share some quotes from “Moral Disorder”. (As I mentioned on a previous post, Atwood plays with metaphors to describe perceptions and emotions).

“We can’t really travel to the past, no matter how we try. If we do it’s as tourists.”

“But my dreaming self refuses to be consoled. It continues to wander, aimless, homeless, alone. It cannot be convinced of its safety by any evidence drawn from my waking life. I know this because I continue to have the same dream over and over.”

“The best thing to do when running away is not to run. Just walk. Just stroll. A combination of ease and purposefulness is desirable. Then no one will notice you are running. In addition to which, don’t carry heavy suitcases or canvas bags full of money, or pack sacks with body parts in them. Leave everything behind you except what’s in your pockets. Light is best.”