‘The Tent’ is Sparse, and That’s Why I Like It

I read a lot, but it’s not often that I simulcast my love of the book I’m currently reading to anyone who will listen, and yet that’s exactly what I did with Margaret Atwood’s The Tent. If we happened to be chatting while I was reading this beautiful little book, I’m sorry. Now go read it.

Now I’ll admit it: the reason I picked this book up is because I was poking around the library shelves looking for The Handmaid’s Tale, which has been checked out for about two months now (go figure – I’m not the only one who was inspired by the new show to finally sit down and read the book that – I know, I know – I should have read ages and ages ago [holy excessive punctuation, Batman]). But that’s how I ended up with this lovely little book of short stories in my possession, and I’m quite pleased.

I wasn’t always a reader of short stories. I loved me some Flannery O’Connor in high school, but I was always more into novels until a couple of years ago, when I started trying my hand at writing short fiction. The best way to write good short fiction is, of course, to read good short fiction, and so I read more Alice Munro and Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut (amongst others) than I knew what to do with, and I developed a real love of the mastery that is telling a whole story in just a few pages.

The Tent is even more micro when it comes to these glimpses: they are sparse and veer more towards fictional essays than stories. The brevity of the stories themselves becomes meta throughout, as narrators complain about the junk and debris that obscures their own identities, and all the while Atwood is expertly peeling back the layers to expose the reality within.

The book includes a wide variety of tales, including a retelling of Hamlet and the writer’s exploration of her memories of her mother, but my favorite was “The Animals Reject Their Names and Things Return to Their Origins,” an eight-page poem that delves into stereotyping, squander, and the mistakes made by the human race that, like The Handmaid’s Tale, feels exceptionally poignant these days.

Read this book; that’s all I’ll say.