Sunday, June 5, 2016

LIFE BEFORE MAN by Margaret Atwood

Lesje and Elizabeth are competing for Nate’s affection, and, honestly, he’s not really worth it.  The two women work at the same natural history museum, and Nate is an attorney who now makes his living, such as it is, carving toys.  He and Elizabeth have a totally dysfunctional marriage, both engaging in affairs that they don’t bother to hide.  Elizabeth’s most recent spurned lover has committed suicide, and she’s depressed, though not exactly grieving.  Nate discards his current paramour, Martha, for Lesje, who lives with William but has no real investment in that relationship.  These characters are just as messed up as they sound, but Atwood wrote this book in the 1970s, and the novel takes place in the 1970s.  She may be making a statement about our culture during that time period, but I have a feeling that these people would be just as despicable today.  Still, I found these crazy relationships oddly appealing, in a voyeuristic kind of way.  Not that there’s anything kinky going on, except perhaps William’s startling reaction when he finds out about Lesje’s affair with Nate.  Elizabeth comes across as a skilled manipulator, laying a major guilt trip on Nate, when she’s just as much at fault for the demise of their marriage.  However, Nate seems to me to be passive-aggressive, stringing Lesje along while he drags out the severing of his ties with Elizabeth, ostensibly for the sake of their two daughters.  Lesje is the real enigma, and Atwood never really clues us in as to what she sees in Nate.  Does she love him because he sought her out as a lover?  He struck me as sort of a weasel.  She could do better.

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