Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: Stone Mattress

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
By Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese September 2014
273 pages
Read for review via Netgalley

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales

Margaret Atwood is known and admired for her exceptional talent as an author. Her stories explore friendship, aging, and what humanity looks like at the end of the world. In Stone Mattress, readers are treated to her writing at its height as she tells a compelling story in just a few pages with wit, understanding, and just a touch of malice. 

Atwood does a careful dance here between connecting stories and those that stand alone. She has three stories that are linked, as characters from the others star in a tale of their own. She also has one story that brings back characters from The Robber Bride, one of her early novels. It was wonderful to unexpectedly run into old friends. Many of these stories seem to draw moments from Atwood's own well of knowledge and feeling, as many of the characters are writers themselves. They grapple with both success and failure, high literature and pulp fiction.

One of the themes that runs through the stories is looking back at your life. It is refreshing to read about characters who have some years and experience under their belts. In almost every story, the specters of age and death loom large. In the first tale, entitled "Alphinland," our elderly protagonist is facing her first winter storm without her husband. She is somewhat forgetful about the things she should be doing to prepare. While her husband's voice gives her gentle reminders from the afterlife, it is heartbreaking to see this woman stumble literally and metaphorically. "Torching the Dusties," the last story, is perhaps the most plausible and the most terrifying. Wilma and Tobias are residents of a senior citizen home that is under siege from an organization seeking to eradicate the elderly. Their usual problems of aging are put in juxtaposition with people trying to escape a hostile situation.

Theses stories are just a bit fanciful - everything seems normal except for the voice of your deceased husband, or a daughter who is an outcast because she rather resembles...well, a vampire. It's fascinating to watch characters who wouldn't describe themselves as bad decide to do some very bad things. The idea of a villain is deconstructed to become someone who needs revenge or finds an opportunity too good to pass on (regardless of the consequences). Stone Mattress is a collection for all readers - those who love short stories and those who avoid them, those who love horror stories and those who love literary fiction, the readers who adore Margaret Atwood and those who are lucky enough to be discovering her amazing writing for the first time.

My reviews of Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Surfacing


  1. Other than The Handmaid's Tale, I haven't read anything by Atwood. Is this a good place to start?

  2. It sounds SO good but I'm SO terrible at reading short stories. I have another collection (or two) of hers that have been untouched for years. Though I think next year will be the year I finally read Alias Grace. Or Oryx and Crake.

  3. Wow, this sounds so good! I didn't love The Handmaid's Tale, but I'd like to give Atwood another chance, both because her books get rave reviews and because she seems like such an interesting person. This seems like it could be a good place to start, because the thought-provoking concepts she touches on seem like they'd make this a fascinating read.

  4. I wasn't a big fan of The Handmaid's Tale but did love Oryx and Crake. I cannot imagine how Atwood would write short stories, but you make this sound like an intriguing read. The idea of the deconstruction of the concept of a villain is particularly fascinating.