Margaret Atwood’s 1993 accomplishment Good Bones is an organic, raw and infinitely witty set of assorted thoughts and creations. The composition consists of some 27 short pieces, ranging from streams-of-consciousness to one-way dialogue to descriptive prose. Atwood’s criticism of society is iconoclastic and her perceptions of the human condition are unrelentingly harsh and honest. The book is sprinkled with unabated feminism and criticism of how humans behave in relation to animals, the environment and each other.
Good Bones concerns itself largely with gender identity and divides. Atwood illustrates the contrivances in how male and female are perceived by society through the highly effective and oftentimes shocking use of humour.
The female body has many uses. It’s been used as a door-knocker, a bottle-opener, as a clock with a ticking belly, as something to hold up lampshades, as a nutcracker, just squeeze the brass legs together and out comes your nut. It bears torches, lifts victorious wreaths, grows copper wings and raises aloft a ring of neon stars; whole buildings rest on its marble heads.
It sells cars, beer, shaving lotion, cigarettes, hard liquor; it sells diet plans and diamonds, and desire in tiny crystal bottles. Is this the face that launched a thousand products? You bet it is, but don’t get any funny big ideas, honey, that smile is a dime a dozen.
The piece’s use of allusion ranges from incidental remarks such as above to entire stories being warped and well-directed mutations of fairy tales, Shakespeare or Bram Stoker. Atwood’s subject matter becomes bleak and somewhat morbid in compositions such as Hardball, where she depicts a dystopic society: “What wonders it contains, especially for those who can afford it!” Despite this, “breathing is out of the question” and rats and humans are considered staple foods. Such morose topics do not prevent Atwood from colouring Good Bones with insightful witticisms and a humorous tone.
The most prevalent and consistent feature of the texts in Good Bones is its ever-present disgust and the unjustified beliefs, poorly formed preconceptions and façade surrounding the absurd that society entertains at its peril. The responder is the victim of a panoply of intellectual deceptions that challenge the values of society at large.
Good Bones is a fascinating and highly creative text. It moves between dark and funny with immense ease, and everything is something else turned on its head. Irony is the watchword of the book, and postmodern prose its war cry. A reader can only be advised to remain prepared for anything.
I always thought it was a mistake, calling you Hamlet. I mean, what kind of a name is that for a young boy? It was your father’s idea. Nothing would do but that you had to be called after him. Selfish. The other kids at school used to tease the life out of you. The nick-names! And those terrible jokes about pork.
I wanted to call you George.
I am not wringing my hands. I’m drying my nails.