Zenia: Aphid of the Soul

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I’m a “play by the rules” kind of guy. Always have been. I was raised that way. I think most people are, and it’s a good thing, too, as I think that having a convincing majority of us willing to abide by the rules of society provides a necessary kind of “herd immunity” for civilization to work. Sure there are outliers, but as long as their numbers are few, civilization can tolerably survive. That’s for most of us. Some of the more unfortunate among the rule-followers, however, have a non rule-follower that is part of their lives, wreaking the havoc that “their kind” predictably cause. Zenia, the infuriating villainess of Margaret Atwood’s “The Robber Bride” doesn’t follow the rules…

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Do you know what an aphid is? If you’re into gardening or botany you certainly do. Aphids (pictured above) are sap-sucking pests that cause more damage to domestic plants than any other species. Even if you’re familiar with them, you may not have ever seen a picture of them. Most are hard to see with the naked eye unless you look very close. I remember (long ago) whlen I was young, I learned not to harm ladybugs. I didn’t know why then, but it is because they dine on aphids. The three main female characters in “The Robber Bride” could have used a friendly ladybug in their lives since, in my favorite quotation from the story, Atwood describes her character as “Zenia, aphid of the soul.” I loved that.

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I don’t remember exactly how this book found its way onto my reading list. I do know that – after reading Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, last year – I definitely wanted “some more.” (Yes, I’m picturing Oliver Twist meekly holding out his porridge bowl now – as you should be!) 🙂

The Robber Bride follows the lives of three women: friends Charis, Tony, and Roz. The lives of all three have been scarred by an association with Zenia, a mysterious woman for whom it’s difficult to know which of her many accounts of herself are true – if indeed ANY are. One of Zenia’s apparent hobbies is “stealing” the men of other women, even her “friends.” Her interest in these men is fleeting however, and it seems her real reason for stealing them might be “just because she can.” It’s a way to show her ’dominance’ I think. It reminded me a little of that old Dolly Parton(!) song, Jolene:

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Are you old enough to remember that one? (Oops! My research just turned up the fact that Miley Cyrus did a cover version of the song more recently, so maybe “everyone” remembers it!)

Anyway, this novel was a great exploration of how good people (the rule-followers) struggle to deal with bad people (the rule-ignorers). After a dramatic beginning, where the three friends are eating lunch at the trendy “Toxique” restaurant only to have Zenia “return from the dead” and re-enter their lives, I was off and running and thoroughly enjoyed the book, even though I expect most readers of this book are women (indeed, one blogger mentioned that “you’d be hard-pressed to find a male fan” of Atwood’s work). I’ll happily count myself among that minority!

What have you read by Atwood? I’ve read the aforementioned The Handmaid’s Tale and a short story Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother, which I loved and mentioned previously on my blog here. Any recommendations on what I might read next? As always, I’m willing to be guided…

(below: gratuitous insertion of an illustration from Dickens’ Oliver Twist – “please sir, I want some more.”)

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