A Difficult but Satisfying Read

The nameless narrator of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing struggles with the oppressive behavior of the men in the group who have traveled together to her childhood home. But she doesn’t hate men, she hates domination, and the false, unnatural and deadening culture of domination, that values only power.  Turns people into robots. Uses victims only as food, slave or trophy. 

At first she thinks of the source of this evil as the USA, or “America.”  (It certainly is true we aggressively market this culture!)  She copes with it through dissociation, regarding herself as a victim  But eventually she realizes we all have in us the impulse to cruelty, to delight in power over others.

The book’s last chapter starts “This above all, to refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that I can do nothing. I have to recant, give up the old belief that I am powerless and because of it nothing I can do will ever hurt anyone.”

The way forward is not clear, the narrator’s next steps are halting.  It’s easy to be disappointed with such an end to a novel.  But after rereading several times, I find its excruciating honesty deeply satisfying.