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Two Scorched Men

Two Scorched Men

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Two Scorched Men

4/5 (23 ratings)
29 pages
24 minutes
Aug 4, 2021


Margaret Atwood needs little introduction. If you don’t know her from her fifty-plus books and many awards and bestsellers, including her MaddAddam Trilogy, Alias Grace, and especially The Handmaid’s Tale, you’ll know her from that visionary and canonical novel’s adaptation into the Emmy-winning Hulu television series. At eighty-one, Atwood is more current and influential than ever, and with more than two million followers on Twitter, she’s achieved a kind of cool generally reserved for rock stars. (Bob Dylan’s got nothing on her.)

In her Scribd Original story Two Scorched Men, Atwood takes a personal turn and returns to characters and places drawn from her own life. Her unnamed narrator pays tribute in fictional form to two men Atwood knew during the years she and her partner, Graeme Gibson, spent in Provence: John, a hotheaded Irishman who served in the Royal Navy during World War II and barely survived the deadly battles in the South Pacific; and François, a wry and affable Frenchman, who was once an operative in the French Resistance and led a life shaped by tragedy. As Atwood writes here, both men knew “I would someday relate their lives for them. Why did they want this? Why does anyone? We resist the notion that we’ll become mere handfuls of dust, so we wish to become words instead. Breath in the mouths of others.”

Breathed into rich and dimensional life in these pages is the exquisite yet vaguely haunted house that the narrator and her husband, Tig, rented from John; the adjacent ancient forest and its allures and dangers; the rough country roads walked and retraced in dreams; the bloody history of the south of France, including the atrocities visited on medieval heretics and, centuries later, the guerrilla fighters who murdered Germans in an effort to free France from occupation. But at the center of the story is the touching friendship between John and François: how they indulge each other’s eccentricities and forgive each other their faults and psychic scars. With great precision and affection are their voices inhabited: John’s uproarious rants at human foolishness, his boasts about his playboy days as an advertising man, and a tempestuousness that so clearly covers for wounds that may never heal. By contrast, François is given to teasing misdirections and wordplay in the name of fun and a love of the absurd that draws everyone in. Tig, the husband of the narrator and a character so often featured in Atwood’s stories, speaks here as well. Practical, he’s a voice of reason and anchors the story’s narrator, much as John and François anchor one another in the world.

In these enduring and endearing relationships, so much of Atwood’s art and wisdom are on display: how ably she balances life’s inevitable injuries with beauty and humor, the pain of loss with the curative powers of the imagination. What better time in Atwood’s creative life—in fact, in our collective lives post a global pandemic—to accept that none of us gets out of life unscathed, that we are all mortal, perfectly imperfect, but that there is solace in friendship and laughter in remembering? Indelible detail by detail, sentence by sentence, Atwood is instructing her reader on resilience. We do what we can for each other, she tells us here, and thank goodness for that.

Aug 4, 2021

About the author

Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in more than forty-five countries, is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, critical essays, and graphic novels. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, now an award-winning TV series, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; The MaddAddam Trilogy; The Heart Goes Last; and Hag-Seed. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Franz Kafka International Literary Prize, the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award. In 2019 she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in Great Britain for services to literature and her novel The Testaments won the Booker Prize and was longlisted for The Giller Prize. She lives in Toronto.

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Two Scorched Men - Margaret Atwood

"JOHN HAS SHOT HIMSELF in the radiator, said François. He laughed his pink-cheeked, silent laugh. But you mustn’t tell him that I told you."

What do you mean, in the radiator? I asked. François was not always self-evident.

He meant to shoot himself, said François, but he changed his mind and shot the radiator instead. He paused, giving me time to say Really? with the required lift of the eyebrows.

Yes! I think so, he continued. There is water all over the floor. He has called a plumber. He is in quite a rage.

Oh dear, I said. John had been our landlord over the winter, although Tig and I were in another rented house by then. John had been in the habit of coming down from Paris to see how we were getting on, he said, though I suspect the real reason was to have an audience, apart from his skeptical French wife. He’d stay in a room he kept for his own use, emerging to shamble around the grounds, argue with various handymen employed to fix things, and share the odd meal with us.

I was thus familiar with the rages, which could be unleashed at any time. I also knew where that radiator was located: in a back hallway off the kitchen. That was where John cleaned his gun, or guns. I was uncertain as to the number. What did he shoot with it, or them? Wild boars, possibly, once. The hills were swarming with them; they rooted up the vines, plus you could make sausages out of them. But surely no boar hunting recently, for John: He was no longer in good enough shape for it.

In the radiator! It is so funny, said François, making more laughing expressions. But you mustn’t tell that you know. His feelings would be hurt.

This is how the two of them went on: laughter on the one hand, rages on the other. They were close friends: one lanky, explosive Irishman, one short,

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  • (5/5)
    I am really suspect to talk about any of Atwood’s texts. I just love her style, and her great sense of humor. Just loved this short story.