Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cat's Eye

I recently finished reading Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood.  It follows the main character Elaine, a "painter" (she refuses to call herself an artist, always a "painter") and focuses on her recollections of childhood, youth, and early adulthood in Canada.

Elaine's family consists of her older brother, her mother, and her father, who treks his family throughout Canada as some kind of research entomologist.  As a result of her nomadic/camping lifestyle, a tomboy mother, and a brother as her only sibling, Elaine finds herself perplexed by girls, unsure how to act around them or how to play with them as a young girl.

Despite this, Elaine quickly happens into a crew of elementary school girlfriends.  However, after about a year of closeness, the friendship devolves into a frightening tale of girl bullying (which will probably ring true to any girl who survived middle school).  What is both surprising and somehow understandable at the same time is when Elaine turns from bullied to bully on the queen bee of her elementary school clique when they friendship each other again in high school.

Her memories of these experiences haunt her memories and haunt her art (in a beautiful way) throughout her life. 

Elaine understands and explains well her difficulties throughout her life in understanding "girls."  But what she never confronts is her inability to connect with men, either.  While she understands men and boys better, the way they talk, act, think, she still fails to really connect with any of the men or boys in her life, either.  She has lovers and husbands, but always seems distant and detached from them.  She never falls in love.  She never shares her secrets, her inner life, with any of them.  Why?  That was the part Atwood seemed to ignore, and I couldn't seem to figure out myself.  Maybe that is what made her such a successful artist -- she shared her true self only with the canvas.  It seemed a lonely life, though, and I didn't understand why.

I really enjoyed this book.  As I said before, it rang true to me.  It's the kind of book I'd love to read with a book club, because I think there are a lot of gems of truth to be discussed, truth about friendship, femininity, art, and memory. 

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