Margaret Atwood brings her ‘Moonglow’ to life in prose-drenched memoir

Margaret Atwood’s books, large and small, have seeped their influence deep into the culture. But how she views her vision, her work and her place in it has changed over the decades.

In her new memoir, “Moonglow,” published Tuesday, Atwood reflects on her career, her work, and her work through an intuitively monochromatic prism: old and new. The book draws on her 75 years of writing to introduce readers to the intense “mantra of Atwood’s work, which transcends time, space, and place.”

Majors on Atwood’s resume are unavoidable. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a world of dystopian danger and terror. The “Oryx and Crake” series, which earned two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Stage Adaptation, is a look at human self-determination in the face of an ecological threat. Many, many more.

But “Moonglow” also shows Atwood posing rather than writing — listening to Howard Stern, watching “Game of Thrones” episodes, taking bikes all over Vancouver. It features an atypical love affair with the Washington Post, which continues Tober Library collections, and one, probably unrecorded, kiss.

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Atwood has spent her career dreamily contemplating dystopian futures and thorny pasts. The basis of that duality, according to “Moonglow,” lies in her imagination, which is mired in dark reflections while unsure what should be done about a deteriorating present.

The book is defined by ambitious interweaving of different, and not always universal, parts of Atwood’s life. The 70-year-old writer admits to having started writing as a teenager to give her people, family and significant others comfort. But she also reveals to have struggled with her Asperger’s, and wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” to combat prejudices.

But at the book’s heart is Atwood’s sheer love for writing, and the positive and transformative effect that it has on her every day.

The author concedes that “one too many times, I misread the texts to where I couldn’t undo the damage,” but says she has learned how to read and write in new ways. “I’ve been expecting this for a long time, but it still hurts a bit every time I read another story,” she writes.

Part of the book’s core is Atwood’s empathy for her readers. “What they feel when they open one of my books and read another is not the book I ever set out to write,” she writes. In that same vein, while Atwood acknowledges her dominance of contemporary fiction, her ideas about gender equality remain unexplored. In a broad but specific example, Atwood offers what she’d like to see in the future: less separation between men and women’s roles.

“The dystopias I wrote in the early ’80s have been largely shelved,” she admits. “But that doesn’t mean they’re past. I continue to think I’m dreaming things up… but they never truly catch on.”

It’s an important point to make about the likes of Ursula K. Le Guin and Isaac Asimov, both renowned authors who died without ever producing a sequel to their original works. And it’s a counterpoint to Atwood’s main point of “Moonglow.” Her work is richer now, as she writes, “When in childhood you read about the past but don’t see much in it, the future only offers a mirror of your own picture and a chance to see it better.”

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