At this point in her career, Margaret Atwood is so revered that she could write a shopping list and someone would slap an award on it.
Which brings us to The Tent. Billed as fiction, it's a collection of previously published essays, poems, and musings - ranging in length from one paragraph to three or four pages - and illustrated by Atwood's own drawings. In many ways, it feels like a literary scrapbook, with pen-and-ink sketches in place of the calligraphy and fuzzy stickers.
Over the decades, the Booker Prize-winning Canadian has written science fiction, short stories, historical fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children's books. The collections in "The Tent" reflect that varied output with titles that range from "Salome Was a Dancer" to "Three Novels I Won't Write Soon" to "Chicken Little Goes Too Far."
But few of the pieces feel as if Atwood were terribly invested in them. They read more like jottings scribbled in a journal - minus any personal revelations.
In the first essay, "Life Stories," the narrator says, "I'm working on my own life story. I don't mean I'm putting it together; no, I'm taking it apart. If you'd wanted the narrative line you should have asked earlier, when I still knew everything and was more than willing to tell. That was before I discovered the virtues of scissors, the virtues of matches."
The result is like staring at shards of pottery - some of the fragments are more graceful than others, but they don't add up to a finished whole.
"The Tent" is Atwood's third book in two months.
Her last one, "The Penelopiad," brilliantly reenvisioned Homer's "The Odyssey" from the viewpoint of the faithful Penelope.
Apparently, Atwood wasn't quite done with the epic, because here she reimagines Helen of Troy as the runaway wife of a middle-aged police chief. "Says it wasn't easy when she was growing up, being half-divine and all, but now she's come to terms with it and she's looking at a career in the movies."
Then Atwood ends the story a paragraph later, with the remark, "My bet is things will get serious. …