cover image Old Babes in the Wood: Stories

Old Babes in the Wood: Stories

Margaret Atwood. Doubleday, $30 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-54907-3

Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) explores love and loss in this brilliant collection that mixes fantastical stories about the afterlife with realism. “Metempsychosis: Or, The Journey of the Soul,” an amusing story of reincarnation, follows a narrator whose soul has jumped “directly from snail to human, with no guppies, basking sharks, whales, beetles, turtles, alligators, skunks, naked mole rats, aardvarks, elephants, or orangutans in between.” “The Dead Interview” features an imaginary interview between Atwood and George Orwell, while in “Wooden Box,” the narrator copes with the death of a longtime partner. Among the entries with a more realist bent are the linked stories that explore the strong bond between Nell and Tig after decades of marriage of. In “First Aid,” Nell and Tig take a course from an emergency responder, which leads them to realize they’d prefer “the illusion of safety” rather than face the facts of mortality. “Better to march along through the golden autumn woods, not very well prepared, poking icy ponds with your hiking pole, snacking on chocolate, sitting on frozen logs, peeling hard-boiled eggs with cold fingers as the early snow sifts down and the day darkens,” Atwood writes, evoking the magic of everyday life. She’s writing at the top of her considerable powers here. (Mar.)