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Moral Disorder and Other Stories
Cover of Moral Disorder and Other Stories
Moral Disorder and Other Stories
Borrow Borrow

From the bestselling author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments This brilliant collection of connected short stories strings together several decades of moments in the life of one woman—as an ambitious girl in the 1930s, as a young professional coming of age in the uncertain ‘50s and ‘60s, and as half of a couple growing old together.
In a series of vividly evoked settings that span cities, backwoods, and farm country, we see this woman contending over time with an unstable sister, a married lover, aging parents, mystifying stepchildren, vulnerable farm animals, and her own changing self. By turns funny, lyrical, earthy, shocking, and deeply personal, Moral Disorder displays Margaret Atwood’s celebrated storytelling gifts and unmistakable style to their best advantage.

From the bestselling author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments This brilliant collection of connected short stories strings together several decades of moments in the life of one woman—as an ambitious girl in the 1930s, as a young professional coming of age in the uncertain ‘50s and ‘60s, and as half of a couple growing old together.
In a series of vividly evoked settings that span cities, backwoods, and farm country, we see this woman contending over time with an unstable sister, a married lover, aging parents, mystifying stepchildren, vulnerable farm animals, and her own changing self. By turns funny, lyrical, earthy, shocking, and deeply personal, Moral Disorder displays Margaret Atwood’s celebrated storytelling gifts and unmistakable style to their best advantage.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One THE HEADLESS HORSEMANFor Halloween that year — the year my sister was two — I dressed up as the Headless Horseman. Before, I’d only ever been ghosts and fat ladies, both of which were easy: all you needed was a sheet and a lot of talcum powder, or a dress and a hat and some padding. But this year would be the last one I’d ever be able to disguise myself, or so I believed. I was getting too old for it — I was almost finished with being thirteen — and so I felt the urge to make a special effort. Halloween was my best holiday. Why did I like it so much? Perhaps because I could take time off from being myself, or from the impersonation of myself I was finding it increasingly expedient, but also increasingly burdensome, to perform in public. I got the Headless Horseman idea from a story we’d read in school. In the story, the Headless Horseman was a grisly legend and also a joke, and that was the effect I was aiming for. I thought everyone would be familiar with this figure: if I’d studied a thing in school I assumed it was general knowledge. I hadn’t yet discovered that I lived in a sort of transparent balloon, drifting over the world without making much contact with it, and that the people I knew appeared to me at a different angle from the one at which they appeared to themselves; and that the reverse was also true. I was smaller to others, up there in my balloon, than I was to myself. I was also blurrier. I had an image of how the Headless Horseman was supposed to look. He was said to ride around at night with nothing on top of his shoulders but a neck, his head held in one arm, the eyes fixing the horrified viewer in a ghastly glare. I made the head out of papier mâché, using strips of newspaper soaked in a flour-and-water paste I cooked myself, as per the instructions in The Rainy Day Book of Hobbies. Earlier in my life — long ago, at least two years ago — I’d had a wistful desire to make all the things suggested in this book: animals twisted out of pipe cleaners, balsa-wood boats that would whiz around when you dropped cooking oil into a hole in the middle, and a tractor thing put together out of an empty thread spool, two matchsticks, and a rubber band; but somehow I could never find the right materials in our house. Cooking up paste glue was simple, however: all you needed was flour and water. Then you simmered and stirred until the paste was translucent. The lumps didn’t matter, you could squeeze them out later. The glue got quite hard when it was dry, and I realized the next morning that I should have filled the pot with water after using it. My mother always said, “A good cook does her own dishes.” But then, I reflected, glue was not real cooking. The head came out too square. I squashed it at the top to make it more like a head, then left it down by the furnace to dry. The drying took longer than I’d planned, and during the process the nose shrank and the head began to smell funny. I could see that I should have spent more time on the chin, but it was too late to add on to it. When the head was dry enough, at least on the outside, I painted it what I hoped was a flesh colour — a wishy-washy bathrobe pink — and then I painted two very white eyeballs with black pupils. The eyes came out a little crossed, but it couldn’t be helped: I didn’t want to make the eyeballs grey by fooling around with the black pupils on the damp white paint. I added dark circles under the eyes, and black eyebrows, and black enamel hair that appeared to have been slicked down with brilliantine. I painted a red mouth, with a trickle of shiny enamel blood coming...
About the Author-
  • Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Her novels include Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and the MaddAddam trilogy. Her 1985 classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, was followed in 2019 by a sequel, The Testaments, which was a global number one bestseller and won the Booker Prize. In 2020 she published Dearly, her first collection of poetry for a decade.
     
    Atwood has won numerous awards including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In 2019 she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to literature. She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright and puppeteer. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 24, 2006
    An intriguing patchwork of poignant episodes, Atwood's latest set of stories (after The Tent
    ) chronicles 60 years of a Canadian family, from postwar Toronto to a farm in the present. The opening piece of this novel-in-stories is set in the present and introduces Tig and Nell, married, elderly and facing an uncertain future in a world that has become foreign and hostile. From there, the book casts back to an 11-year-old Nell excitedly knitting garments for her as yet unborn sister, Lizzie, and continues to trace her adolescence and young adulthood; Nell rebels against the stern conventions of her mother's Toronto household, only to rush back home at 28 to help her family deal with Lizzie's schizophrenia. After carving out a "medium-sized niche" as a freelance book editor, Nell meets Oona, a writer, who is bored with her marriage to Tig. Oona has been searching for someone to fill "the position of second wife," and she introduces Nell to Tig. Later in life, Nell takes care of her once vital but now ravaged-by-age parents. Though the episodic approach has its disjointed moments, Atwood provides a memorable mosaic of domestic pain and the surface tension of a troubled family.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 18, 2006
    Denaker's fine, deep voice and varied vocal range works particularly well with Atwood's sardonic humor. But her articulation is so perfect as to be disconcerting, often tossing impediments into Atwood's carefully wrought sentences. The first story begins with an elderly married couple, Tig and Nell, having breakfast and tea while discussing some horrific political murders occurring far away. This is the framework for the family stories to come. Nell's girlhood is dedicated to the tender care and feeding of her difficult sister. She perpetually struggles with the pleasure and resentment of her lifelong role as caregiver to her sister, Tig, his sons, his ex-wife and, finally, her own parents. Her life-like Atwood's book-is "a sock drawer into which a number of disparate things were shoved, a jumble." Apparently personal, perhaps even autobiographical, these stories are knit together by the "moral disorder" Atwood sees in everyone from one generation to the next.

  • Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

    "Sharply focused, intensely personal. . . . Moral Disorder is domestic realism at its most convincing. . . . These are poignant stories crammed with richly nostalgic detail, rueful, wise, elegiac."

  • The Los Angeles Times Book Review "Elegant. . . . In Moral Disorder, Atwood travels deep into the expanse of memories and language built up over her writing lifetime and offers a handful of gems to illuminate our times."
  • New York Times Book Review "Poignant. . . . Wry. . . . The tremendous imaginative power of [Atwood's] fiction allows us to believe that anything is possible."
  • Elle

    "Searingly intelligent. . . . [These are] beguiling narratives that Atwood unspools with signature grace and incisiveness."
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Moral Disorder and Other Stories
Moral Disorder and Other Stories
Margaret Atwood
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