Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

First off, I think I need to come clean and just own that I have a total girl crush on Margaret Atwood after reading only two of her novels. While the Handmaid’s Tale kind of rocked my world, made my heart pound and caused a few tears to be shed (ok, more than a few…) as I pondered the very real parallels with today’s current political crusading, Alias Grace was a story unto itself and utterly cemented my girl crush for the eloquent and indomitable Margaret Atwood. Her stories, so far, have been captivating and beautifully written.

I first heard of Alias Grace by stumbling across the Netflix original series. Seeing not only that it was based on a novel by a familiar author but that the plot seemed less likely to make me sob every episode (I still haven’t been able to finish the Hulu series based on the Handmaid’s tale; too close to home!) I was sucked into Grace’s story and immediately binged-watched 3 episodes in a row. It was only the late hour of 11pm and my usual 5am wake-up alarm that forced me to curtail my viewing pleasure…silly adulting getting in the way of my Netflix.

The story that is continually spun deeper and deeper with each episode is enhanced by a well-chosen cast of actresses and actors and one can’t help but feel transported right into the midst of the mystery being explored. Grace Marks is a convicted murderess who cannot remember what happened the day of the murders and in the past, has exhibited signs of hysteria and possibly insanity. A committee of well-intended Methodist Church members have been working tirelessly to prove Grace’s innocence and garner a pardon from the courts. To this end, they enlist the services of Dr. Jordon, a young doctor in the burgeoning field of psychiatry, to interview Grace and determine whether or not she indeed suffers from hysteria, in the hopes that his report may help sway a judge to pardon Grace.

Day after day, Dr. Jordan interviews Grace, asking her to start at the beginning of her life. The tale she relates, in vivid detail, encompasses such a span of human experience. Grief, joy, sorrow, fear, friendship and loss. Grace’s family immigrated to Canada from Ireland and the description seemed reminiscent of tales told by Irish families who immigrated on the “coffin ships” during the Great Irish famine. Grace’s mother dies during the voyage and once the family reaches Canada, Grace is left to care for her younger siblings while her father spends all their money drinking, until the day he throws her out of the house to find work.

Grace ends up employed as a serving girl in a wealthy house and is befriended by the vivacious Mary Whitney. Through an all-too-common situation, Mary Whitney ends up pregnant by the son of the household owners and dies in the evening after enduring an abortion. Grace is troubled by the loss of her friend and when a better-paying opportunity is offered to her, she jumps at the chance to leave the house where some of the best memories of her young life are entwined with the tragedy of Mary’s death.

The decision to accept this new position is where the real story starts. The trifecta of tension between Grace’s new master, Mr. Kinnear, the housekeeper (or is she?) Nancy Montgomery and the stablehand James McDermott eventually leads to the pivotal mystery of the series/novel. McDermott and Grace are arrested for the murders of Mr. Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery and McDermott claims all the way to the hanging scaffold that Grace was the mastermind behind the murders and the one who convinced him to carry them out. But did Grace knowingly commit the murders? Is her amnesia real or only a convenient defense against a murder charge?

As Grace relates more and more of her memories from before and after the events, I couldn’t help but wonder if she is guilty? I swayed on this decision many a time, sometimes because I didn’t want her to be guilty or maybe she was justifiably guilty, such as the actions leading to the murders were in self-defense? By the end of the series, I don’t know that I really cared if she was guilty or innocent, I just WANTED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!!!! However, similar to the ending of Handmaid’s Tale, you are left to draw your own conclusions as to what happens during the murders and if Grace, herself, had a knowing hand in the acts.

I decided to read the book version after finishing the TV series as I was curious to see if the ending in the book would give a bit more depth to the story. As much as I loved the Netflix series, the ending felt somewhat abrupt. However, the novel ends in much the same manner (and in some ways, the minor changes between the novel and the series adaptation I actually like better in the series but this may simply be due to seeing this before reading the book) but overall, this is one of the better book-to-screen adaptations I have encountered.

Not convinced yet that you want to watch the TV series or read the book? Well, to further pique your interest, this novel fictionalizes the real-life murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. Grace Marks and James McDermott were indeed the servants arrested and convicted for the murders, with James sentenced to death and Grace to life in prison. Grace was spared the death sentence due to being only 16 at the time of the murders. And, *spoiler alert* after Grace’s pardon and release from prison, not much is known of her life. As Margaret Atwood would say “the true character of the historical Grace Marks remains an enigma.”

 

** Disclosure: Book links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and decided to purchase one of the books.**

Image credit: Pixabay.com

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Where did the time go?

Where did the time go?

Holy Moly, how is it 2018? One of these days, I will figure out how to make this whole blogging thing a regular part of life but I admit that full-time work, full-time graduate school and general adulting has left me exhausted. However, being now officially done with my MBA (woohoo) I can get back to enjoying the subtle niceties of life….aka copious amounts of reading. I’m not sure I even want to know what the page count from between Christmas and New Year’s is as I felt like I was searching for a new book almost every day.

I’m pleased to say that I’m back on the book challenge bandwagon and managed to burn my way through both Bossypants by Tina Fey** and I feel bad about my neck by Nora Ephron. 2 more down and yeah, still several to go. But hey, I have, like 3 months until I’m 35 and have to hang my head in shame for failing this noblest of endeavors.

I enjoyed reading Bossypants immensely. The clever witticisms that I would expect of Tina Fey are sprinkled throughout the memoir along with advice that is darn good regardless of whether or not you happen to possess a pair of boobs. A few key gems:

  • “In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”
  • “Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.”
  • “It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good. I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.”
  • “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”

And in a beautiful response to scathing fan letter:

“To say I’m an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair.”

I appreciated the no-nonsense manner in which the book conveyed the trials and tribulations of her youth, complete with awkward adolescent years, and the sharing of potential closet skeletons that frankly we all have from our youth but not all are courageous enough to own. As a woman, who sometimes laments being female everytime I have to restock my supply of feminine hygiene products for the next go-around of my body punishing me for not being pregnant (this comic illustrates the relationship with my uterus perfectly), I was more amused by Tina’s rambling regarding the fact that she didn’t realize her period would involve blood since TV commercials always showing a bright blue liquid. Whether this is actually true or merely an amusing anecdotal story, I can identify with the confusion and wonder about the marketing mind that decided we mustn’t make the masses squeamish with the sight of a little blood.

Musings on the joys reproductive cycles and marketing tactics aside, reading this book made me want to hug Tina Fey until she got a restraining order against me or (instead) figure out how to bottle that indomitable spirit and sell it for tons of money on Amazon. Seriously, read this book and decide how to channel your inner Tina Fey. With feminist hat firmly affixed, I’ll venture to say that we need more Tina Fey’s in the world.

Now, Nora Ephran’s book…well, I just don’t know what to make of it. I’m not sure if I feel this way because I read it much too soon after the rollicking ride of Tina’s Fey’s life and feminist views and so, by comparison, there was a missing joie de vivre element but this book simply did not resonate with me. Many chapter openings pulled me in but then there were abrupt endings or a lack of final wisdom conveyed. Sure, I also don’t understand obsessing about one’s purse or paying hundreds of dollars for a glorified rucksack where one will inevitably store dust mites, forgotten scraps of paper and even a black hole portal but then there was no real sense of closure to the chapter. When I finally read the last page and gently closed the back cover, I sat staring at the book in befuddlement. Where was the grandiose message of sage wisdom? Where was my adult empowerment that you know what, everything is going to be ok? While there were a few gems, overall I am still pondering why this book was written. Perhaps, as I age, potentially ungracefully, Nora’s writing and the message will resonate with me more but for now, someone please let me know if I merely missed the cereal box decoder that was necessary to unlocking the hidden message?

Happy 2018 all! Soon to come, thoughts on Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

** Disclosure: Book links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and decided to purchase one of the books.**

Image credit: Pixabay.com