February 03, 1992 12:00 PM

by Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s aim is true in this latest collection of 10 short stories, especially when she focuses on well-educated, upper-middle-class men and women scratching away at each other in big cities. A couple of stories resolve too neatly, but even in these, Atwood’s writing is assured, her focus clear and her humor ample.

She’s plumbing her usual feminist themes here, but this time she also investigates late middle age, the gap between childhood dreams and adult reality, and how love can sour. Atwood writes sentences that so neatly and exactly delineate her cast of failed academicians, aging journalists, disillusioned social reformers and other members of the intelligentsia that the reader can only whistle in admiration.

“When it comes to the crunch, I have a dislike of other people’s bathtub rings. That’s the virtue in married men: Someone else does the maintenance,” says a middle-aged woman in “Weight,” explaining why she had affairs but never married. In “Hack Wednesday,” a woman eschews the underground pedestrian tunnels that thread through downtown Toronto in favor of its snow-swept streets. “Marcia feels a moral obligation to deal with winter instead of merely avoiding it,” Atwood writes. And, in “Uncles,” a woman who has just become an art critic discovers the secret of successful reviewing: “She learned to use a lot of adjectives. They came in pairs, good and bad. The same painting could be energetic or chaotic, static or imbued with classical values, depending on whim.” Touché!

For those who have never read Atwood, Wilderness Tips is a perfect primer; for those who are already fans, it will reaffirm their faith. (Doubleday, $20)

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