The accelerating pressure of time is a palpable force in the psyches of Atwood's characters in this collection. The majority of the pieces involve figures who are looking back over their lives, usually elegiacally but sometimes with downright bitterness or uncomprehending confusion. Repeatedly, the past proves its power to live on in the present in mysterious, sometimes deforming, ways. Richard, the middle-aged professor of "Isis in Darkness," has just decided to commit himself to a retrospective study of the work of a poet named Selena, a friend who had long epitomized for him the artist's quest for aesthetic and intellectual authenticity. Her slow descent into alcoholic disillusionment and literary marginality speaks to him of a martyrdom he avoided by choosing instead the safer, if soul-deadening, path of the tenured university hack. Marcia, the central consciousness of "Hack Wednesday," also broods over where her career finds her, although she is compromised not so much by earlier choices as by the changes in journalism that subordinate ethics and social responsibility to tacit corporate censorship. She poses a threat to the paper's new management and will be punished, she realizes, "For being as old as she is, for knowing too much."
Many characters do not quite gain Marcia's overarching vantage point in looking backward, for their sights are really still fixed on the present, with the past remaining a confused jumble—they have yet to forge the...
(The entire section is 1214 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Wilderness Tips Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!