cover image Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Margaret Atwood, . . House of Anansi, $15.95 (230pp) ISBN 978-0-88784-800-1

Atwood's book is a weird but wonderful mélange of personal reminiscences, literary walkabout, moral preachment, timely political argument, economic history and theological query, all bound together with wry wit and careful though casual-seeming research. “Every debt comes with a date on which payment is due,” Atwood observes on this conversational stroll, from the homely and familiar “notion of fairness” and “notion of equivalent values” in Kingsley's Water Babies to the thornier connection between debt and sin, memory and redemption in Aeschylus's Eumenides . “Any debt involves a story line,” Atwood points out as she leads the reader into “the nineteenth century [when] debt as plot really rages through the fictional pages,” and ruin is financial for men, but sexual for women. Things get even darker on “the shadow side” where “the nastier forms of debt and credit”—debtors' prisons, loan sharks and rebellions—abide. Atwood is encyclopedic in her range, following threads wherever they lead—credit cards and computer programs, Sin Eaters, Saint Nicholas, Star Trek, the history of pawnshops and of taxation, Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty and Dante's Divine Comedy , Christ and Faust—and a consistently captivating storyteller. (Nov.)