Short story review from: The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction – “Death by Landscape” by Margaret Atwood

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, edited by Lex Williford and Michael Martone.

“Death by Landscape”
Margaret Atwood

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Lois has downsized to a waterfront condominium. Her husband has died and her children are grown. She is relieved by the simplicity of her new life. No lawn to worry about, no upkeep, no ivy invading the bricks or pesky squirrels chewing on attic wires. No plant life whatsoever.

She has brought with her an extensive collection of landscape paintings, now densely displayed on her wall. So different from how they were hung at the house, one over a couch, one in a hallway, like accents. Here they collectively present themselves and while she is satisfied with this new arrangement, they leave her feeling unsettled.

Lois has collected them over the years, and although they are valuable, she didn’t buy them as investments. Atwood writes:

She bought them because she wanted them. She wanted something that was in them, although she could not have said at the time what it was. It was not peace: she does not find them peaceful in the least. Looking at them fills her with a wordless unease. Despite the fact that there are no people in them or even animals, it’s as if there is something, or someone, looking back out.

Lois recalls the tragic events of an overnight canoe trip during her camping days at Camp Manitou. A lost friend, Lucy, and the mystery of her disappearance still haunt Lois. She still relives the moments when Lucy vanished, just as she did when she was thirteen. What kind of cry did she hear? Was it fear, surprise, something else? She questions her movements. Should she have done something differently? What did Cappie, Camp Manitou’s director, herself desperate for an explanation, mean when she questioned Lois?

Now as Lois looks at these paintings, she sees Lucy in every one of them, somehow hiding within the trees, or in the brush, or behind a rock.

I like this story. I like the way Lois learns to cope with her loss. How she creates a full circle of grief. It’s taken Lois most of her life to reconcile these feelings and the story ends with hope and, Lois thinks, perhaps joy.

Here is a short biography, adapted from The Scribner Anthology, and Wikipedia.

MARGARET ATWOOD (1939-) was born in Ottawa and grew up in northern Quebec and Ontario, and later in Toronto. She is the author of more than forty novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, social history, and books for children. She has won many awards, including the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, the City of Toronto Book Award, and the Canadian Authors Association Award. Other honors include the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature in the United States and La Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; and Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize. Her most recent novel is MaddAddam, Book 3 of the MaddAddam Triology (2013). She lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Here are some additional links about Margaret Atwood, including a full bibliography of her work:

Margaret Atwood website biography
Margaret Atwood website bibliography
Amazon biography
Google biography

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