(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood’s eighth novel, opens at the trendy Toronto restaurant Toxique, where middle-aged friends Tony, Charis, and Rox have their monthly lunch. Although they come from different backgrounds and their personalities are much at odds, they share a common denominator: All have lost a lover or spouse to the nefarious, ravishing she-devil Zenia. Friends since their 1960’s days at Toronto University, over the last thirty years they have helped each other in turn survive Zenia’s poisonous onslaughts. Although Zenia is dead—they attended her cremation in order to be sure—they continue their supportive meetings. To their great consternation, however, an even more dazzling, resurrected Zenia walks right by them in the restaurant.

Most of the novel recounts the women’s ordeals after the sinister Zenia enters their lives, steals their men, and shatters their worlds. The first narrative deals with Tony, a professor of military history, who has managed to salvage her placid musicologist husband from the evil Zenia’s talons. At college, Tony falls deeply in love with Zenia’s roommate, West. Although Zenia demonstrates friendship to Tony, she is really after her notes, papers, and ultimately, her inheritance.

The second story revolves around the quirky but loveable Charis. Charis’s life rotates around Billy, an American draft-dodger who manipulates Charis to conceal him on her island hideaway, until Zenia pays an uninvited visit. She plays on Charis’s good nature, begging her to care for her while she battles cancer—from which she does not suffer. Charis moves her into her home, nurses her, and...

(The entire section is 679 words.)