“I don’t want to go,” I said to Ben.
“You don’t have to,” he said. “Call it off. Come down to Mexico.”
“They’ve gone to all the trouble,” I said. “Listen, you know how hard it is to get a retrospective anywhere, if you’re female?”
“Why is it important?” he said. “You sell anyway.”
“I have to go,” I said. “It wouldn’t be right.” I was brought up to say please and thank you.
“Okay,” he said. “You know what you’re doing.” He gave me a hug.
I wish it were true.
And those are really the first words addressing this retrospective the woman artist is having in her home town in Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. They come in after 92 pages of childhood, girl friendships and games, poverty, a wayward family – all things which are familiar to me actually, art aside. And those kinds of tales probably cast a much wider net as regards readers. But I’ve been waiting for the moment when you just know that this girl Elaine will be an artist, though this story seems more about relationships, not art.
And why would it matter? Because to become an artist is one thing, to stay an artist is another and I want to know how she navigated it, especially back in Postwar days. I'm hoping I hear more about it. One thing I found accurate is her recount of loving small things, of liking bits of paper, tin foil, just simple objects that came her way as a child. As she ages, she wants things more. But Elaine expresses this not just as acquisitiveness or as girlish vanity, but more as an artist who collects and examines something for its own thingness.
As someone returning for a big show, she’s also not wild about discussing what it is to be a “woman artist.” When the local press come to talk about feminism, she’s not buying. But I don’t think I was either back in 1988, when this novel was published. This may be the ideal time to read this book too because I am heading to southern Oregon tomorrow - my childhood home, where the girls were, with its own complexities.