Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Alias Grace: Final Thoughts

**First, to be fair: Spoilers are fair game today, so if you have not read the book and have any intention of doing so in the near future, you may want to stop reading now, just to be safe.**

As most of you know, this is my second time around with Alias Grace, and I've been surprised at how much I had forgotten in the 8 years since I've read it, as well as how much I must have missed the first time around. For example, I completely forgot that she meets up with and marries Mr. Walsh in the end and that Jerome DuPont was actually Jeremiah. I only vaguely remembered the indication that Grace had a split personality, but then remembered that even then I wondered if Mary Whitney had ever existed at all or if she was just a figment of Grace's imagination - perhaps she saw the headstone in the cemetery one day and all developed from there.

The quilt motif does not disappoint, either. All the sections are cleverly named for quilt patterns, names that reflect the contents of the section. Broken Dishes lays out Grace's early family history; Secret Drawer describes her happy times with Mary Whitney; Snake Fence depicts her dealings with two-faced Nancy and the general foreboding lurking around Kinnear's house. It also wraps up the novel nicely at the end, with pieces of the three women's dresses stitched into Grace's own modified Tree of Paradise - as I suppose we all have to modify our ideas of contentment as life normally fails to live up to - or at least fails to match - our childhood hopes and aspirations.

Simon, of course, turns out to be the foppish philanderer I thought him, though I believe his affection for Grace was genuine, although not strong enough ever to bother explaining his sudden disappearance. And, at least he uses his medical training to help out in the war, having a few noble streaks left in him, and not being all bad, just weak in certain bits of his character. His judgment of MacKenzie was humorous, though I thought the lawyer summed up our wonderment as to Grace's reliability as a narrator quite neatly:
"Lying," says MacKenzie. "A severe term, surely. Has she been lying to you, you ask? Let me put it this way - did Scheherazade lie? Not in her own eyes; indeed, the stories she told ought never to be subjected to the harsh categories of Truth and Falsehood. They belong in another realm altogether. Perhaps Grace Marks has merely been telling you what she needs to tell, in order to accomplish the desired end."
And, though there are many instances when Grace admits to holding back certain facts while relating her story to Simon or others, so as not to offend, or to be misunderstood, she always seems to be letting the reader know that she's doing so. I always found her to be telling the story that she herself believed, as none of us remember every detail exactly as it happened but only what we can recall through the passing of time and viewed through our own limited perceptions. She knows her place, and her predicament, and does as much as she can to make her situation as bearable as possible. As she herself muses:
When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.
Did anyone else notice that Grace's grammar suffered when we heard her story through Simon, rather than from her own mind (Chapter 35)? I found that rather interesting. Does she hear herself as better spoken because that's how she perceives herself, or does Simon hear her as less educated because that's how his perceptions color her story? The play on perception in the novel is fascinatingly well-done, from the filling in the gaps in the famous story to the views and opinions of each of the characters - and they all have strong opinions of Grace's innocence or guilt, of her fragility or cunning.

I have to wonder if Jamie Walsh was a figure in the original history, or if he has been added - the afterward in the back of the novel does not mention him. I do like that Atwood gave Grace a happy ending - did others? I felt it was a believable end to a mostly depressing tale. I also found myself constantly hoping events would turn out differently, that Grace would go away with Jeremiah, or not take the position at Mr. Kinnear's, or run away from McDermott when she had that chance.

Alias Grace held up for me on a second read, and I found it very enjoyable to read with others - I hope Brenna and Beth - and Jennifer - and others enjoyed the read as well.

Be sure to check out everyone else's thoughts:
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