Dancing Girls by Margaret Atwood

Dancing Girls was Atwood's first collection of short stories and it was originally published in 1977. There are 14 stories in the collection. There are several editions of this collection and depending on when they were published, depends on the 14 stories in them. My edition is a copy of the original 14 stories so I will go through those and then at the end I will share the stories that are different.

The War In The Bathroom.

It takes place in a boarding house where the bathroom is shared. Just like the title suggests there really is a war for the bathroom. The story is divided up into days over a one week period from Monday to Sunday. Throughout those days we learn of when the bathroom gets used, by who and what can be heard throughout the house. How this story is told is what makes it interesting. There is a bit of a mystery of who the narrator is.

The Man From Mars.

The main character, Christine, meets a man in a park. This man is described as a person from another culture. He is asking for directions and they communicate as best as they can. The man starts following Christine, showing up wherever she is. She doesn’t really know what he wants or if he’s harmful. When Christine finally learns where he is from she becomes obsessed with learning more about it, but by then it’s probably too late. What I loved most about this story was that it paints a good picture of the assumptions we make of others, especially if they are different than us.


Central to this story is the friendship between Louise and Morrison. Morrison is a professor who sometimes doesn’t feel part of his body. Louise is a graduate student who becomes more agitated as the story progresses. She believes that she has to gather people to change the electrical currents in the city. This story includes ideas of what women should be and it is a unique look at mental illness.

Under Glass

I didn't really care for this one. It’s a story of a newly married couple. Their relationship is already on the rocks. The husband has had an affair and dismisses the behaviour.

The Grave of the Famous Poet

This was one of my favourites. A couple is visiting a small town; we don’t know where. They are tourists looking for a grave site of a poet; we don’t know which one. Their relationship seems mundane. Something happens that might change that but maybe not for the better.

Rape Fantasies

This probably gets attention just from its oxymoron title. A group of women start talking in the workplace about having rape fantasies and as they share their stories, they realize they aren’t about rape at all. However, the narrator is who turns this story on its head by telling how she would get out of various rape situations. Some of them are quite absurd and even comical.

Hair Jewellery

This is another story of a rocky relationship or unrequited love. I quite liked this one. We follow the main character to Boston and to New York City. Our young narrator has high hopes for a relationship. I loved how Atwood brought the theme of identity into this story. I loved the line "I shed identities like a snake" which showed a bit of naivete on the narrator’s part, thinking that by changing who she is to suit those around would change things.

When It Happens

This is about Mrs. Berge & her husband Frank. It starts off uncomplicated with Mrs. Berge putting her canned pickles away for the winter. While doing so she begins to fantasize about a complete societal breakdown. And then the unexpected happens. This one left me wondering exactly what happened.

A Travel Piece

A travel writer named Annette who is traveling and thinking about how a writer cannot write about the dangers of travel. The idea is to make home be the dangerous place and encourage people to leave on vacation to get away from it so she can’t report on the hazards of travel. Then the plane crashes and Annette might change her mind.

The Resplendent Quetzal.

Sarah and Edward's relationship is on shaky ground and we follow them as they are tourists. This story has similar themes to some of the other stories, marriage, miscarriage and the one I like most in this one was the ways we disguise our true selves.


Rob who works at a camp for kids with disabilities. He works with Jordan who is 9 years old in a wheelchair. Their relationship is quite beautiful, but misunderstanding change everything. This story had a bit of a horror feel to it. It had themes of bullying and the importance of communication.

Lives of the Poets is one of the stories

I didn’t really care for this one. Like a few of the other stories, it takes place on a campus. The main characters are Markia, Bernie and Julia. Art is an important theme in this one and the struggle of trying to make a living through art.

Dancing Girls

The title story takes place in either an apartment building or boarding house with a motley crew of characters and a landlady. This story also has a theme of foreigners.

Giving Birth

The final story is kind of a haunting story about a woman who sees a ghost version of herself and through her works out her worst fears and trepidations of motherhood and giving birth.

If you have one of the later editions than there are two of these stories that are not in the book. The first story: The War in the Bathroom and Rape Fantasies. Instead, those editions include a story called Betty which I really liked and thought was a more fleshed out story. The narrator is 7 years old and has an older sister who is 11. When they lived in Ottawa they had neighbours in their apartment and the husband beat his wife. At their summer cottage, their neighbours are Fred and Betty. Everyone loves Fred and Betty was so kind, but people weren’t drawn to her the way they were to Fred. When the narrator’s older sister finds a friend, the narrator begins spending more time with Betty. Then one day something is wrong with Betty.

I loved that we saw this story through the eyes of a child. This story has themes of marriage, identity, roles and expectations of women.

The other story that is in later editions is called The Sin Eater. This is about a psychiatrist named Joseph and one of his patients who is the narrator. We learn how important Joseph is to many women’s lives and how they have learned about him from each other. The narrator talks about how she doesn’t find reality to make sense. Joseph is the only one who seems to not contradict her on this. Then Joseph dies and now what will the women do.

I really enjoyed these short stories and they all have that Atwood signature.

Bookworm Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛

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