Authors can subtitle their books however their editors permit. Whether or not we readers must accept the “tales” category to which Margaret Atwood has assigned this collection, however, is probably covered by the intentional fallacy. That she wants this collection of a short trilogy and 6 other fictions to be read as tales is clear enough (in beginning her “Acknowledgments”  she makes that ‘ask’ lengthily explicit). But the fictions here resemble a number of genres, from the folk tale to realistic short story, genre fiction, and speculative fiction. Moreover, the strong resemblance of all “nine tales” to Atwood’s earlier novels and story collections suggest that she could equally declare those too to be “tales” of varying lengths. “Cautionary tales” perhaps. Aspiring critics of the kind twice satirized in this collection may some day want to explore that.
On the other hand, possibly Atwood’s insistence that these are “tales” rather than stories “about what we usually agree to call ‘real life’” (271) is designed merely to protect her from biographical interpretation, or threats of legal action from acquaintances who imagine they see themselves here. Many of the stories are indeed set in Toronto times and places with which Atwood is known to be familiar. She has also inserted a more obvious attempt at legal protection on the collection’s copyright page, one aimed at recent scandalous interpretations of Canadian copyright law: “This is a collection of individual works, not a unified text. “Fair Use” is not a license to reproduce whole stories without permission of the copyright holder.” I wish her luck in defending that.
Subtitle and “not a unified text” claims aside, readers of my generation who enjoy reading representations, however unromantic, of the culture of their adolescence should like this book, as should fans of early Atwood. She returns