Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 9/16/2014
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Leave it to Margaret Atwood to take two things I’m quite ambivalent about—short stories and elements of fantasy—and make me fall in love. Though I went into Stone Mattress hesitant, by the collection’s third story I felt a strong connection to the thread linking “Alphinland”, “Revenant” and “Dark Lady”, along with the irresistible pull of Atwood’s prose.
I often find myself struggling with anything that strays too far off the beaten path, but Stone Mattress finds a perfect balance between its solid footing in reality and a sly, twisted nod to mythical elements. Atwood herself describes the story collection as removed “at least slightly from the realm of mundane works and days, as it evokes the world of the folk tale, the wonder tale, and the long-ago teller of tales.” That slight shift takes many forms, like the mind of a science fiction writer or a murderous wife, but consistently serves as a link between the collection’s stories rather than a distraction.
“There’s only so long you can feel sorry for a person before you come to feel that their affliction is an act of malice committed by them against you.”
The tales are also linked by the looming presence of age, which pushes some characters close to death and simply reminds others of their mortality. But many can’t face the future without a last look at their past. In the darkest of her stories, Atwood ‘s characters use the advantage of age to seek revenge for life’s injustices, often with pointed commentary.
Now part of an absolutely dizzying body of work, Stone Mattress is a testament to Margaret Atwood’s ability to continuously thrill and surprise readers while holding fast to the style and substance we love.