First, a big “thank you” to Netgalley and publisher Nan A. Talese for making this book available. Margaret Atwood is not an author who needs advance reviews from the average ‘Joe’ or small-time blogger. Still, it’s great for us to have the opportunity to see a copy of a book like this, from a well-known, well-respected author. So thank you.
I’ve written before about how much I enjoy reading short fiction. One of the first collections of short stories that I remember reading and really enjoying (surprisingly, at the time, as it wasn’t sci-fi genre fiction which was all I read for a time) was Margaret Atwood’s Bluebeard’s Egg. it was, in fact, the book that turned me on to her writing. Fortunately, for anyone who enjoys good writing, Atwood hasn’t lost a step through the decades. Stone Mattress is a strong, strong collection.
Some of these stories, much like her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, have a slight sci-fi bent to them, while there is also a hint of horror and touch of mystery. Each of them is a strong story, and while not all will resonate with every reader, every reader is bound to find something that appeals among these nine tales.
The first three stories are related. In “Alphinland,” a widowed writer (Constance) is continually thinking of her late husband (Gavin) and how he’d react as she moves throughout her day. She recalls sometimes painful memories, such as when she discovered his infidelity. In the second story, “Revenant,” Gavin is a grumpy old man who doesn’t think much of Constance’s ‘pulp’ writing work, despite the fact that it supported them. The third story of the trilogy, “The Dark Lady,” is told through the eyes of the woman with whom Gavin had his affair.
Any time I read a collection such as this, I can’t help but try to determine which stories were my favorites. That’s difficult here because I liked all the stories so well. I would probably look at “Alphinland” and “The Dead Hand Loves You” and “Stone Mattress” as my top three picks. “The Dead Hand” is the story of a successful horror writer who forged an agreement as a youth with his friends that each would share, evenly, their financial success should they achieve fame/success. And “Stone Mattress” is a revenge story of a woman who accidentally runs in to a man who ruined her life and she plots ways to kill him.
Many (MANY) years ago I attended a conference/convention of noted authors. At a panel a question was asked, “Other than length, what are the differences between short stories and novels?” One author (I’ll leave his name out of it in case I am remembering it incorrectly) said that he had heard, from another author considered to be a ‘grand master’ that the short story was about things people do and the novel was about people who do things. I’ve often thought back to this and realized that there is a great deal of truth to this. A novel, by virtue of its length, gets to explore people in-depth, while they are doing things, while the short story doesn’t allow us the time to get to know people and we only see snapshots of what they are doing. However… Margaret Atwood bucks this simplified version of the difference between the story and the novel. Atwood’s stories are about people, and as I read through this collection and came to that realization, I also realized that this is why her stories stand out so much from other short fiction I read. A story about people, especially when well told, will often be much more interesting than a story about ‘things.’
The stories (about people) in this collection are:
“The Freeze-Dried Groom”
“I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth”
“The Dead Hand Loves You”
“Torching the Dusties”
Looking for a good book? Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood is a collection of nine tales that you really should own and read.
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Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
author: Margaret Atwood
publisher: Nan A. Talese
hardcover, 273 pages