Elaine Risley has returned to Toronto for a retrospective showing of her paintings. Her parents had moved to Toronto when she was around 8 or 9. She stayed there until her first daughter was young. Now her daughters are grown. Her husband has gone on a business trip to Mexico while she comes to Toronto.
From the time her plane lands, Elaine watches for her childhood friend Cordelia. As she wanders through the city, Elaine relives her life. For her early years her parents had been nomads in northern Canada. Her father gets a teaching position so they buy a home in Toronto. Elaine and her older brother Stephen have to adjust to staying in one place and attending school. Elaine's best friend had always been her brother. Now she needs to learn how to make girl friends.
Elaine's unorthodox upbringing has made it difficult for her to mesh properly with other girls. But she manages for a year. Then Cordelia moves in and her group changes. The dynamics between the four girls now circle around this older girl. Elaine becomes the person she is expected to be within the group.
When they get older, Elaine and Cordelia attend the same high school. Elaine now becomes the stronger person. Cordelia has been in some unspecified trouble and has been held back a year to be in Elaine's grade. Their relationship shifts as Elaine recognizes her own strengths.
After school they split again. Elaine pursues her career as an artist, meets men, and has a family. Yet Cordelia and the girls from her youth still haunt her. Her paintings are surreal, reflecting the people and emotions from those years. Now, many years later, Elaine wants to see Cordelia again. She wants to close that portion of her life.
Margaret Atwood portrays a telling story of how childhood influences our lives no matter how well or poorly we do as an adult. Elaine has become a successful artist, yet she still seeks Cordelia's approval. Cat's Eye is written in first person narrative so the story is colored by Elaine's emotions and feelings despite the striving for objectiveness in reporting her life.
Atwood reminds us how important our childhood is for all our lives. No matter what we do as an adult, that child lingers. Many people become fully functional, productive, happy adults no matter what happened as a child. A few people never overcome the shadow of their childhood. But no matter how normal we are when grown, that child still lurks. Elaine succeeds in her life. But that doesn't stop her from looking for the influential person from her childhood.
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