Why is it we want so badly to memorialize ourselves? Even while we’re still alive. We wish to assert our existence, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on bathroom walls. It’s all the same impulse. What do we hope from it? Applause? Envy? Respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get? At the very least we want a witness. We can’t stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio running down.
I’m reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for Read Hard!, a Tumblr-based book club. I’ve never been inclined to read this book — hell, I’ve never been inclined to read Atwood. But now is as good a time as any, I guess. And, well, reading The Blind Assassin, I’m very much aware of how masterful the crafting is: A narrative within a novel within the actual novel. A sci-fi tale within a love story within a family saga. It’s admirable, even awe-inspiring.
Although, a part of me suspects Atwood wrote the “inner novel” separately, and no one wanted to publish it, har, and decided to put it inside a fat novel. [I did that once, in a short story. It didn’t work, mostly because I was too obvious.] And it’s this suspicion that prevents me from completely falling forward into the narrative[s]. That, and the fact that I just don’t like that “inner novel,” also called — confuzzlingly enough, thanks, Atwood — The Blind Assassin. I grit my teeth when the narrative breaks — Iris’ present + reminiscences — to make way for Laura’s posthumously published novel — I just don’t like the form used. I gnash said teeth when the characters in that novel digress to some sci-fi yarn to pass the time — I don’t like that genre.
I am a grouch. But I trudge on. Mostly because I really like Iris. And there are gems — see the quoted text above — that have me in awe of Atwood’s prose. At least, Atwood’s prose in the Iris context. Augh. I’m trying not to skip Laura’s sandwiched novel altogether, but it’s a struggle. It’s such a chore, for seriously.