Look, I’m smiling at you, I’m smiling in you, I’m smiling through you. How can I be dead if I breathe in every quiver of your hand?
– Abram Tertz (Andrei Sinyavsky), The Icicle
Oh wow, what a book this has been. I read it in short bursts and I must say it’s one of the best stories from Margaret Atwood (Besides the Blind Assassin and The Edible Woman) dealing with the dissolution of a marriage post infidelity from one of the partners. It reminded me in spots of Hausfrau but while the heroine from Jill Essbaum committed suicide in the end for not being able to break through the boredom of the daily married couple, Margaret’s wife decides to live on, for the children.
Imprisoned by walls of their own construction, here are three people, each in midlife, in midcrisis, forced to make choices–after the rules have changed. Elizabeth, with her controlled sensuality, her suppressed rage, is married to the wrong man. She has just lost her latest lover to suicide. Nate, her gentle, indecisive husband, is planning to leave her for Lesje, a perennial innocent who prefers dinosaurs to men. Hanging over them all is the ghost of Elizabeth’s dead lover…and the dizzying threat of three lives careening inevitably toward the same climax.
Nate and Elizabeth are an unhappily married couple, with both husband and wife involved in extramarital affairs. Lesje, pronounced ‘Lashia,’ is Nate’s lover of Ukrainian ancestry and works along with his wife in the museum of natural history as a paleontologistfascinated by dinosaurs, giving the book its title. Elizabeth, said to have been inspired by Shirley Gibson, ex-wife of Atwood’s partner Graeme Gibson, also takes a lover, Chris, who recently committed suicide. All three of the novel’s main characters influence the narration, with each chapter presenting events from a particular character’s perspective.
We have a very interesting love triangle going on. Elizabeth is married to Nate. Elizabeth has had a string of lovers, but she always told Nate about them just before she was ready to let them go. Until Chris came along and Chris killed himself because he could not be with her. Elizabeth plunges into nothingness and is unwilling to keep living normally, just passes the days in a stupor. Nate falls in love with one of Elizabeth’s coworkers, exotic Lesje and has an affair with her, dumping his previous par-amour Martha.
Elizabeth, notices the increased interest in Lesje, and comes out to fight for her marriage again. She breaks Lesje and her boyfriend William up, thinking that they will make up and leave her husband alone, but Lesje decides to move out and move in with Nate. Let the divorce proceedings begin.
I loved the book as it delved into each of the people’s backgrounds, motivations and ideas and you can see and understand why each person moved the way they did over the chessboard that is life. But in the end, the Queen takes all.