Quite simply, the regular and intense satisfaction that Margaret Atwood offers her readers in Stone Mattress makes this book a suitable antidote to grey January days or the perfect start to any a-book-a-month resolutions that have been made. Reaching nine endings whilst having read one book is nothing but rewarding. The conquest aside, this collection of nine mischievously sinister stories reignites the sparkle in the eyes of Atwood’s aging characters and injects life back into the group of people we often allow ourselves to forget. This master of modern dystopia has spared no bitter or twisted thought in any of these concise representations of the daily grind.
Several of the stories in Stone Mattress are “tales about tales”, increasing the depth, intensity and drama that is already present in Atwood’s writing. Adding layers to her stories seems to have been a useful tool for Atwood, allowing her to cram in as much variance as possible into the plot before needing to wrap it up. This has kept the anthology concise and fast paced. Perhaps the most challenging of the tales to chew on is The Dead Hand Loves You. The cheesy horror story is disguised as a novel written by a character that recollects it throughout the length of the tale, but with two stories in one it is deceptively deep and seems to have a different atmosphere to the others.
Many of the characters throughout the book encounter deep misfortune and sadness, but this dystopian realism is representative of daily life. Atwood tackles themes of old age, death and bad luck, but she decorates these banal events with lively and distinctive personalities, reminding the reader that each of us have traits that make us unique and memorable. This is especially evident in eccentric Jorrie in Dark Lady who revels in attending funerals of past acquaintances with the intent of causing a scene. It is heart-warming and a pleasure to meet characters with such different personalities and the reader is spoilt for choice with the lovably bizarre or the rude and careless in this collection.
Atwood’s characters are the crowning glory of this anthology. They have been created with such success that when a gold digging pensioner seeks revenge at the hand of an ancient rock formation, the reader can only salute her for her cunning ways.
The tales are written with the necessary precision of a short story, highlighting the most crucial details and omitting those upon which we can speculate, teasing the reader’s imagination and inflating the story into something special and personal.
Virago Press (2014)
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