Stone Mattress: Nine Tales – Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood turns to short fiction for the first time since her 2006 collection, Moral Disorder, with nine tales of acute psychological insight and turbulent relationships bringing to mind her award-winning 1996 novel, Alias Grace. A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in "Alphinland," the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In "The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom," a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In "Lusus Naturae," a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In "Torching the Dusties," an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in "Stone Mattress," a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.
Review: In these nine fantastical tales, murder is plotted, a woman searches for her husband in a fictional world, a girl is mistaken for a monster, and an angry mob torches a retirement community.
I’ve read almost all of Margaret Atwood’s short story collections, and Stone Mattress is one of my favorites. These stories feel more “genre” than Atwood’s other works, but it’s a refreshing change. I love the elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. The author definitely puts her unique (and hilarious) spin on the genres. It makes these stories feel both familiar and innovative.
Usually with short story collections, there are a few stories that I just don’t like. I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything in this book. It’s darkly funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously. As always, Atwood’s writing is poetic. The descriptions are vivid, and the characters have big personalities. I especially like that many of the protagonists are older retired people. I haven’t read many stories that focus on that stage of life.
All of the stories in this collection are great, but here are a few of my favorites:
In “Revenant,” a sex-obsessed elderly poet scares away the graduate student who comes to interview him about his ex-girlfriend’s novels. I think this is the funniest story in the collection.
In “Lusus Naturae,” a girl with a rare illness fakes her own death . . . then is later mistaken for an undead monster by the people in her town. This story reads like a fairytale. It’s a familiar tale, but Atwood’s writing is so strong and intelligent that it feels new.
In “Stone Mattress,” a woman goes on an Arctic cruise hoping to find love, but she ends up plotting the murder of a man who raped her fifty years ago. This is the story that I remember most from the collection. It’s funny, sad, and rich in symbolism. I was still thinking about it days after I read it.
Stone Mattress: Nine Tales is a great addition to my big collection of Margaret Atwood books. I’m looking forward to whatever she writes next.