Friday, October 3, 2014

"Lusus Naturae" by Margaret Atwood

Deal Me In Lite, R.I.P. Edition, Week 5: “Lusus Naturae” by Margaret Atwood (Story 5 of 13)

I have a confession to make: I would read Margaret Atwood's grocery list.  Any kind of words she wants to put down in any order would be OK by me.  I think she is one of the most interesting and inventive writers today.  So when I saw her story "Lusus Naturae" in my McSweeney's anthology, I knew it had to go on the R.I.P. Peril of the Short Story list.  And this week, the 5 of spades dealt it up for me.


"Lusus naturae" is Latin for "a freak of nature," and that's what the narrator of this story admits to being.  She is a nameless young girl whose family does not know what to do with her, except they know they cannot keep hiding her any longer.  We never get any real picture of what she looks like, but she refers to her yellow eyes, pink teeth, hairy face and body, and red fingernails -- so the "lusus naturae" terminology is apt.

The family decides that she should "die," so they fake her death and burial.  Oddly, this gives her more freedom than she has ever known before, as long as she stays out of sight.  Completely self-aware and intelligent, she uses her new-found freedom to educate herself by reading and trying to learn about the world.  But she has a penchant for roaming around at night, and it is this which finally becomes her undoing.  Stumbling upon lovers meeting furtively at dusk, she mistakes them for creatures who are in the preliminary stages of becoming like her, and she is oddly, irresistibly, and tragically drawn to them.  The story ends rather predictably but Atwood's decision to write the story from the point of view of the monster gives the ending a great deal of nobility and redemption that it would not have otherwise had.

I enjoyed this very short story.  It was well-written and suitably creepy for my R.I.P. short story enterprise.  Atwood has a new short story collection that's just come out, and you'd better believe it's on my wishlist!


  1. Almost sounds like a Frankenstein inversion: The girl has to "die" in order to be free enough to learn about the world.

    I picked up a McSweeney's anthology for next year's Deal Me In. I'm looking forward to it!

    1. There's another way this story works as "reverse Frankenstein," too -- the ending comes complete with angry villagers with torches and pitchforks! :-)