Margaret Atwoood, 1988
Marbles, jump-ropes, paper dolls. For the child Elaine they are the props of a childhood marked by anxiety as she navigates the playground with its baffling rules of engagement, at the mercy of “friends” who smile for the parents while whispering cruelties in her ear.
Margaret Atwood has mastered the art of time travel in Cat’s Eye; this novel is not a reminiscence. Although grown-up Elaine opens the story, it is the child Elaine who describes her first meeting with Carol, then Grace – and then with Cordelia. As the narrative shifts among the different Elaines – Elaine in her teens, college student Elaine, wife and mother Elaine, and Elaine in her fifties, there is never a hint of any other age; events recounted clearly by the child Elaine are vague and suppressed when we listen to the voice of Elaine in junior high. Toys that are very important to the child Elaine, described in loving detail, are shrugged off by adult Elaine when seen again with no memory of their importance.
There are so many themes one could explore in this book – motherhood, sibling relationships, wealth, marriage, infidelity, loss, grief – and I suppose we could do that with enough time to dissect it thoroughly. At its essence though, in addition to being beautifully crafted, this story is eminently readable.