Good Bones by Margaret Atwood is one of the three collections of what she calls “aberrations” and “mutations”. The pieces in this collection defy categorisation. They are short pieces of various forms and one could spend a long time trying to decide whether these are flash fictions, prose poems, essays and so on. One thing they all have in common is that they are very short. Yet, it seems that their form might have repelled readers and critics since they have received less attention than her poems, short stories proper and novels.
The tone of these pieces is often ironic and humorous. Many of them are parodies, including that of women’s magazines “How to” section in the case of “Making a Man”, in which the narrator gives her readers various recipes to make a man. Most pieces are highly charged with intertextuality, which allows such short pieces to be suggestive and present multiple meanings. Some of these intertexts are obvious, such as Hamlet in “Gertrude Talks Back”, while other require more knowledge and research, as in the reference to the Baudelairean prose poem in “Men at Sea”. Although one might miss layers of meaning by ignoring references, the pieces remain entertaining and sarcastic.
These pieces are also self-reflexive, drawing our attention to the question of plot, considering what is involved in writing and forcing readers to reflect on how writing is politically charged. This is often achieved through revision of well-known literary genres. For instance, the piece “There Was Once” is a deconstruction of the classic fairy tale and “The Little Red Hen Tells All” revises a famous folk tale.
The pieces often give a voice to marginal literary characters revising their representation in famous canonical works or to aliens and other living beings giving their views on human beings and their irrationality. By doing so, it subverts Enlightenment ideas concerning the superiority of man (and his reason) above other species (including women). For instance, the bat in “My Life as a Bat” criticises its representation in literature and popular culture and gives us a strange view of how humans might appear to her.
As I have said, a lot is involved in those short pieces and one can read them at various levels. Even though we might not be able to grab all the connotations, they remain enjoyable and display Atwood’s usual wit and sarcasm.