THE BLIND ASSASSIN By Margaret Atwood Doubleday 521 pp., $26
Margaret Atwood is the literary world's greatest stunt woman. She leaps from heights, crashes through walls, and flies through flames that more prudent writers would never dare.
The title of her latest book, "The Blind Assassin," announces its recklessness right up front. It's a killer novel, all right, but it can see exactly where it's going, even when we can't.
"Ten days after the war ended," the narrator opens, "my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." The flames of that deadly tragedy don't throw much light on Laura's motives. Nor does the carefully fabricated obituary that follows. Or the story of intergalactic warfare on the planet Zycron. Seriously.
In fact, for the first 30 self-consciously oblique pages, "The Blind Assassin" drags us through a pawn shop of incongruous objects: more obituaries about the accident-prone Chase family, furtive meetings between two unnamed lovers, ghastly battles on Zycron, and best of all, the old narrator's cranky patter about the indignities of modern life.
It's a wild ride, but if you can hang on through this opening, you'll be hooked till the whole tragic story finally comes to rest in the most surprising place.
Iris Chase has been waiting 50 years to reveal what led to her sister's suicide. Over that time, Laura attained cult-hero status for the posthumous publication of her noir novel, "The Blind Assassin," which appears as a novel within this novel. (In a further nesting of tales, a character in Laura's book entertains his lover with bizarre stories of the planet Zycron.) Professors still publish critical essays about Laura, and lachrymose fans leave flowers on her grave.