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Fiction Short Stories (single Author)

Moral Disorder

by (author) Margaret Atwood

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Mar 2009
Short Stories (single author), Family Life, Contemporary Women
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2009
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2007
    List Price

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In these ten dazzling interrelated stories Atwood traces the course of a life and also the lives intertwined with it, while evoking the drama and the humour that colour common experiences—the birth of a baby, divorce and remarriage, old age and death. With settings ranging from Toronto, northern Quebec, and rural Ontario, the stories begin in the present, as a couple no longer young situate themselves in a larger world no longer safe. Then the narrative goes back in time to the forties and moves chronologically forward toward the present.

In “The Art of Cooking and Serving,” the twelve-year-old narrator does her best to accommodate the arrival of a baby sister. After she boldly declares her independence, we follow the narrator into young adulthood and then through a complex relationship. In “The Entities,” the story of two women haunted by the past unfolds. The magnificent last two stories reveal the heartbreaking old age of parents but circle back again to childhood, to complete the cycle.

By turns funny, lyrical, incisive, tragic, earthy, shocking, and deeply personal, Moral Disorder displays Atwood’s celebrated storytelling gifts and unmistakable style to their best advantage. This is vintage Atwood, writing at the height of her powers.

About the author

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.
Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than fifty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.
Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson. 

Margaret Atwood's profile page

Excerpt: Moral Disorder (by (author) Margaret Atwood)

An excerpt from “The Art of Cooking and Serving,” from Margaret Atwood’s Moral Disorder
I'd been told about the expectant state of my mother in May, by my father. It had made me very anxious, partly because I'd also been told that until my new baby brother or sister had arrived safely my mother would be in a dangerous condition. Something terrible might happen to her -- something that might make her very ill -- and it was all the more likely to happen if I myself did not pay proper attention. My father did not say what this thing was, but his gravity and terseness meant that it was a serious business.

My mother -- said my father -- was not supposed to sweep the floor, or carry anything heavy such as pails of water, or bend down much, or lift bulky objects. We would all have to pitch in, said my father, and do extra tasks. It would be my brother's job to mow the lawn, from now until June, when we would go up north. (Up north there was no lawn. In any case my brother wouldn't be there: he was heading off to a camp for boys, to do things with axes in the woods.) As for me, I would just have to be generally helpful. More helpful than usual, my father added in a manner that was meant to be encouraging. He himself would be helpful too, of course. But he couldn't be there all the time. He had some work to do, when we would be at what other people called the cottage but we called the island. (Cottages had iceboxes and gas generators and waterskiing, all of which we lacked.) It was necessary for him to be away, which was unfortunate, he continued. But he would not be gone for very long, and he was sure I would be up to it.

I myself was not so sure. He always thought I knew more than I knew, and that I was bigger than I was, and older, and hardier. What he mistook for calmness and competence was actually fright: that was why I stared at him in silence, nodding my head. The danger that loomed was so vague, and therefore so large -- how could I even prepare for it? At the back of my mind, my feat of knitting was a sort of charm, like the fairy-tale suits of nettles mute princesses were supposed to make for their swan-shaped brothers, to turn them back into human beings. If I could only complete the full set of baby garments, the baby that was supposed to fit inside them would be conjured into the world, and thus out of my mother. Once outside, where I could see it -- once it had a face -- it could be dealt with. As it was, the thing was a menace.

Editorial Reviews


“This snapshot collection is a study of memory, to be cherished not just as an acute portrayal of family life, with all its possibilities and failings, but for revealing a little more of Atwood’s own struggle.” —The Times (UK)
“Vintage Atwood: slyly operatic, playfully tenebrous and a touch of sanguinary.” —Globe and Mail
“Atwood does geography—emotional and physical—better than anyone. . . . Atwood is in top form as she sketches female guises and disguises: daughter, sister, lover, wife.” —Toronto Star
“Atwood travels deep into the expanse of memories and language built up over her writing lifetime and offers a handful of gems to illuminate our times.” —Los Angeles Times
“Margaret Atwood has always been an acute observer of women. . . . Crisp to the senses and compelling.” —The Telegraph (UK)

“Atwood is still a master of the compelling, peculiar portrait of human behavior.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Margaret Atwood balances the apparently random—disorderly—events and memories against the sense we all have that a life as a whole has its own shape, possibly a destiny. . . . This tale, like all these tales, is both grim and delightful, because it is triumphantly understood and excellently written.” —A.S. Byatt, Washington Post Book World

User Reviews

Moral Disorder, by Margaret Atwood

I wasn't sure how I wanted to review this book. Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder is a collection of intertwined short stories. How connected are these stories? Did I want to comment on each story individually (as I like to do with short stories) or do I want to talk about the book as a whole? I decided that I'd do a combination. I have a few sentences for each story, then I'll comment on the book as a whole, which I have to say, I really enjoyed. So here goes:

The Bad News

The Bad News is the first short story in Moral Disorder. It is told from the perspective of an older woman. She seems to be preoccupied with her end and the end of her husband. She repeats the phrase 'not yet'; the things that are coming for her are not yet there. She is more concerned with her life than the deaths in the news. Aren’t we all? Is that the disorder of our morals?

The Art of Cooking and Serving

It is a story about being stuck and escaping. The main character imagines a different future. There is always a sadness when a child is force to grow up too early.

The Headless Horseman

The Headless Horseman examines siblings/sisterhood over the years. I found it very connected to second story.

My Last Duchess

Move on. Do not be a dumb bunny.

The Other Place (vague spoiler)

I know who the girl is. For some reason, I thought she might be the daughter of the old woman, but I'm coming to recognize her voice. Her past isn't just in the lady; it's leaving clues to the future too.


Monopoly is the first story to feel unresolved and like a middle or explanatory chapter rather than a stand-alone story. It was good though, because we learn more about Nell and how she came to be with Tig. So, I appreciated the explanation, not that it felt like an “explanation,” just a chapter in a novel.

Moral Disorder

This was another story that also had a "middle chapter" feeling. Maybe that's just what happens when you put together intertwined short stories. If I read Moral Disorder or Monopoly alone, out of this context, perhaps my feelings would be different.

White Horse

White Horse gives you the feeling of a separate story again, which is nice. We get a good look at Nell and Lizzie as people, their past, present and future. It gives them more dimension.


Very quick, fast-paced read. I liked that Lillie was the focus. It gave Entities that short story feeling that some of the other stories were missing.

The Labrador Fiasco

The father is Nell’s right? No names are used, so you're left to assume. It gives you the feeling of the book coming to the end, which is appropriate since it's the second last story of the book. It’s very sad, but well crafted and home to some fantastic characters.

Boys at the Lab

On page 205 a comment was made that reminds me of Doctor Who, "bigger on the inside than it was on the outside.” I kind of loved that line. Was that done on purpose? Does Margaret Atwood watch Doctor Who? I hope someone reading this knows what I'm talking about.

Definitely had the feeling of conclusion. I assume that the daughter is Nell, but the main characters are not named. Boys at the Lab is possibly the best story in the entire collection.

The Whole Book

Moral Disorder is a fantastic collection of Atwood tales. I did come away thinking that Moral Disorder is part novel, part short story collection. The stories are more than “intertwined” and exist as individual entities to varying degrees. Some definitely have just the feeling of being able to exist on their own. Other stories feel like chapters, though I think part of that feeling comes from the stories being put together in one volume. Moral Disorder contains some interesting, unique characters. I can't believe I waited so long to read it.

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