“Burning Questions” is a canny title for Margaret Atwood’s new book of essays and occasional pieces. It reflects both the urgency of the issues dear to her — literature, feminism, the environment, human rights — and their combustibility, the risk that in writing about them she might get burned. Though she wryly self-defines as a “supposedly revered elderly icon or scary witchy granny figure,” Atwood, now in the seventh decade of her colossally successful literary career, can still rile and inspire. She trends not infrequently on Twitter, where she has over 2 million followers. Hulu’s adaptation of her novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a touchstone in the fight for women’s reproductive rights as well as the object of criticism regarding its intersectional failings. And a recent interview with Hadley Freeman in the Guardian has reignited the firestorm over where Atwood stands in the culture-war scrap over trans rights — a painful divide in contemporary feminism.
There aren’t always clear answers in “Burning Questions”; indeed, Atwood points out that essays are really just “attempts” at answers and that they aren’t necessarily all that anyway. “Fiction writers are particularly suspect because they write about human beings, and people are morally ambiguous,” she notes. “The aim of ideology is to eliminate ambiguity.” Although this volume is squarely on the nonfiction shelf, it shares her novels’ aversion to absolutes. These 65 short pieces are liberally punctuated with question marks.
For the review in full, visit The Washington Post.