This semester, I’m teaching a course on American literature which seeks to challenge what that term actually means and how we can define “American Lit” as something which is multi-national, multi-cultural, and infinitely larger. After all, we live in the Americas; technically speaking, Canadians are Americans in this sense of the term. That’s why I’m here talking about Surfacing by Margaret Atwood and not As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.
Though only loosely fantastic, Atwoods Surfacing is a complex, character-driven feminist tale about relationships, patriarchy, nationalism, and the human psyche. It follows an unnamed narrator who returns with her friends to her childhood home to search for her missing father, who she assumes has either died or run off into the woods. As she tries to piece together her father’s last days from the clues left in his cabin, she is confronted with her friends’ abusive marriage, her recent and distant past, and the crippling expectations of post-WW2 society (and the changes brought on by the Quiet Revolution in 1960s Quebec). Though not intended as horror, Surfacing explores its themes with a sense of impending terror, such that the final moments, which I won’t discuss in any detail here, are profoundly fantastic, with the character drama forming the root of an exploding, terror-driven tree. [Read more…]