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Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood
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Wilderness Tips (original 1991; edition 1998)

by Margaret Atwood

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2,144176,509 (3.78)98
In each of these tales Margaret Atwood deftly illuminates the single instant that shapes a whole life: in a few brief pages we watch as characters progress from the vulnerabilities of adolescence through the passions of youth into the precarious complexities of middle age. By superimposing the past on the present, Atwood paints interior landscapes shaped by time, regret, and life's lost chances, endowing even the banal with a sense of mystery. Richly layered and disturbing, poignant at times and scathingly witty at others, the stories in Wilderness Tips take us into the strange and secret places of the heart and inform the familiar world in which we live with truths that cut to the bone.… (more)
Member:faitattention
Title:Wilderness Tips
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Anchor (1998), Paperback, 240 pages
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Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood (1991)

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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
This is an odd little colleciton of stories. They are set at different time periods, but they all seem to have an air of nostalgia about them, even the most contemporary of the short stories has that air of the best of life having been in the past. While most are set in, or referring to, nature, this is nature raw in tooth and claw, it's not necessarily a safe nature.
There's not a lot that actually happens in each story, but each one has undercurrents and they hint at hidden depths. It's an intriguing set of stories. ( )
  Helenliz | Mar 12, 2020 |
A collections of perfectly okay short stories, but none of them were particularly memorable. "The Bog Man" and "The Age of Lead" were the two I liked best. ( )
  JBD1 | May 10, 2018 |
Wilderness Tips contains ten superbly crafted stories, in which life doesn’t always turn out quite how it was expected to, consequences must be faced, time flies as it does in life. All of this within the confines of ordinary life. I’m not going to describe in detail every story – as ten is rather a lot to write about – so I shall instead attempt to give a flavour of the collection.

The stories – some of which span years, even decades – focus mainly on the lives of women, and the men who inhabit their lives. Toronto, its environs and the Canadian woods are the settings for these stories – some taking place in slightly more rural settings – two of the stories taking in the world of the summer camp. I have always known, that had I been born in Canada or the US I would have simply despised the summer camp. Yet just as the world of the hotel or the boarding school is deeply fascinating and wreathed in stories as they are places that pull unrelated people together – so is the North American summer camp similarly fascinating. I wonder if that explains the fact that these two stories, True Trash and Death by Landscape were among my favourites.

True Trash is the story which opens the collection, and a group of young boys with some binoculars spy on a group of waitresses as they sunbathe. The waitresses – subject to much speculation and fantasy – are only three or four years older than the boys – lie in the sun and read romance stories in trashy magazines. Here Atwood recreates the atmosphere of the camp beautifully, the sexual tensions between the boys and these older girls, that heady, complicated time when one is somehow stranded between childhood and adulthood. The story of the consequences of that summer continue many years later – but I naturally can’t say too much about that.

“Between two oval hills of pink granite there’s a small crescent of beach. The boys, wearing their bathing suits (as they never do on canoe trips but only around the camp where they might be seen by girls), are doing their laundry, standing up to their knees and swabbing their wet T-shirts and underpants with yellow bars of Sunlight soap. This only happens when they run out of clothes, or when the stench of dirty socks in the cabin becomes too overpowering. Darce, the counsellor is supervising, stretched out on a rock, taking the sun on his already tanned torso and smoking a fag. It’s forbidden to smoke in front of the campers but he knows this bunch won’t tell. To be on the safe side he’s furtive it, holding the cigarette down close to the rock and sneaking quick puffs.”

(True Trash)

The second camp story – actually the fifth story in, Death by Landscape – in which a woman recalls a mysterious and shocking incident at her summer camp years before. Atwood’s description of a traditional old camp, little changed since the start of the century, and the remote, mountainous countryside surrounding it is perfect. In her apartment, where she now lives alone, Lois has a collection of landscape paintings, which take her back to the world of that camp.

“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.”

(Death by Landscape)

Several of the women in these stories are professional women – journalists or lawyers -making their way in the world of men. In Hairball, for instance, Kat, a magazine editor, undergoes surgery to remove a growth – there’s a horrifying description of it – which I shall spare you. Kat takes her tumour home in a bottle of formaldehyde. Kat’s married lover; Gerald – takes the opportunity of her absence from work to ease her out – a betrayal which takes her breath away. Kat takes a terrible, stomach churning revenge. It is a quite brilliant story, slightly disturbing, but with a superb sting in the tail. In Uncles; Susanna, a journalist has her success ruined by the poisonous jealously of a male colleague – the uncles of the title the men whose praise and approval she worked so hard to achieve when she was a girl. The uncles had protected and provided for Susanna and her mother, and Susana can’t help but search for uncle like figures as she starts out in her career. In Weight, another professional woman – a lawyer sleeps around, seeming always to be making omelettes for other women’s husbands. She remembers Molly – who she was at college with – they shared similar dreams of fighting feminism and achieving professional greatness. Now our narrator, engineers a meeting with a rich man – she is only interested in his money – though it isn’t for herself she wants it – but for a shelter for battered women – to be called Molly’s Place.

In the title story Wilderness Tips, we witness the strange dynamic between three sisters. George, once a Hungarian refugee – has been successful in Canada and married one of the sisters. George has cheated on his wife with one of her sisters – and is now dancing around the third – quite successful in this too it seems. George’s past very different to his present – which he can’t help but recall as his wife Prue shows of the effect of her red bandannas.

“‘It’s the forties look,” she says to George, hand on her hip, doing a pirouette. “Rosie the Riveter. From the war. Remember her?”
George, whose name is not really George, does not remember. He spent the forties rooting through garbage bag heaps and begging, and doing other things unsuitable for a child. He has a dim memory of some film star posed on a calendar tattering on a latrine wall. Maybe this is the one Prue means. He remembers for an instant his intense resentment of the bright, ignorant smile, the well-fed body. A couple of buddies had helped him take her apart with the rusty blade from a kitchen knife they’d found somewhere in the rubble. He does not consider telling any of this to Prue.”

(wilderness Tips)

Wilderness Tips is a wonderful collection which beautifully explores aspects of Canadian life, between the sixties and the nineties. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Nov 25, 2017 |
One of the best collections of short stories I have read till now. Masterfully composed, interesting, full of psychological insight, moving and with irresistible wit, dark humour. Atwood has a way of perfectfully introducing the characters and slipping in all background information the reader needs to get full understanding of what is happening. ( )
  stef7sa | Jan 5, 2017 |
I'm going to have to take a break from Margaret Atwood. I love her novels, but her short stories have left little impression on me. (And let's not even mention my recent run in with The Heart Goes Last...).

There are only two stories in Wilderness Tips that I can remember and that were of some interest to me - Uncles and The Age of Lead.
The latter caught my interest because it makes reference to the Franklin expedition, which is an event I have some interest in.

Other than that, the stories are well written and quite subdued. Each deals with some quiet desperation involving its main characters. There are no punches or fireworks, but a long and slow unfolding of the story or theme. ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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The waitresses are basking in the sun like a herd of skinned seals, their pinky-brown bodies shining with oil.
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In each of these tales Margaret Atwood deftly illuminates the single instant that shapes a whole life: in a few brief pages we watch as characters progress from the vulnerabilities of adolescence through the passions of youth into the precarious complexities of middle age. By superimposing the past on the present, Atwood paints interior landscapes shaped by time, regret, and life's lost chances, endowing even the banal with a sense of mystery. Richly layered and disturbing, poignant at times and scathingly witty at others, the stories in Wilderness Tips take us into the strange and secret places of the heart and inform the familiar world in which we live with truths that cut to the bone.

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