“Bread,” by Margaret Atwood
Like David Foster Wallace’s “Octet,” this piece approaches the reader with multiple tiny stories that try to elicit a moral response. I wonder if Wallace was inspired by the form and content of “Bread,” though he certainly doesn’t trouble to mention it, and in fact he describes his ambitions as dauntingly original. And of course, unlike Atwood, he allows his own writerly anxieties to overwhelm the heavier moral themes he introduces earlier on.
On a reread, the first section has been transfigured into something ironic, even accusatory: “You don’t have to imagine it” and making bread is “something relaxing to do with your hands.” The presumed reader is so comfortable, and must be disturbed.
This is such a great piece of mental bargaining: “It’s not the hunger or the pain that is killing you but the absence of the yellow bowl.” A lesser writer would have just invented a longing for some ordinary and beautiful object and stopped there. It reminds me, if I may lower the stakes and arguably the brow, of Arthur Dent’s longing for a cereal box.
The Iowa Review has so much free fiction online! Amazing. And this issue is devoted entirely to women.