BookBrowse Reviews Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

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Stone Mattress

Nine Tales

by Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood X
Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucy Rock
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Margaret Atwood's signature style is in fine form in this engaging, if uneven, collection of short stories.

Margaret Atwood, an internationally recognized and celebrated artist, is well-loved among many readers. Her latest collection of stories, Stone Mattress, has been hotly anticipated and includes a disquieting mix of pulp fiction, and tales of looming mortality and battered relationships, that make these literary morsels a strong complement to an already impressive résumé.

The nine evocative pieces veer wildly in tone: from a conspiracy to murder old folk trapped within their luxurious care home, to tales inspired by classic Gothic traditions. Interspersed with these are other, first-class examples of Atwood's acerbic wit and sheer range of expression showcased in a creepy murder mystery and a tale of revenge set in the arctic wilderness.

These stories, plucked from several points in her recent career (some previously published) take us on a roller coaster ride of subject matter and mood. Despite sparkling depictions of an icy impassable landscape that display Atwoodian prose perfection in the first few pages alone, the first three stories - "Alphinland," "Revenant" and "Dark Lady" - are a mediocre, soap-opera start to an altogether fine collection.

Nevertheless, Atwood's prowess and experience as a writer show in the rest. The character of Verna, the main protagonist for the titular tale, "Stone Mattress," is so well developed in just a few pages, that we cheer for her despite the fact that she's not altogether virtuous.

It is Atwood's focus on the Gothic, however, that has us truly entertained. "Lusus Naturae," ("a freak of nature") is a Goosebumps-style, melancholy tale of ostracization and loneliness whereas "The Freeze-Dried Groom," gives us a chilling whodunnit that serves as a reminder that something unknown lurks within us all. Finally, with a nostalgic nod to cartoonist Charles Addams, we follow the fluke success of a young writer in "The Dead Hand Loves You." Although the hardships he goes through as a student and his illusions of future creativity may be familiar to many readers, it is in the trashy horror story elements where the real entertainment lies.

We end with "Torching the Dusties," a remarkable depiction of the winter of life. The story features an elderly woman, Wilma, and her equally old friend Tobias, and their reaction to the aggressors who threaten to destroy their home. Wilma's Charles Bonnet syndrome, a common condition in which people who have lost all or most of their sight experience hallucinations, adds a quirky, magical and highly ironic spin to events.

From the simply adequate to the most superb, Stone Mattress is an admirable, off-kilter study of death, love and vulnerability - often all three. Within these pages we are reminded of our own rapidly approaching mortality and, against all odds, see our desire to be loved in the strangest of tales. Ever found yourself wondering what you could possibly have in common with a freakish, monster-werewolf child? Perhaps, at times, more than you might think. Despite a couple of dud notes along the way, the gems amongst these tales are happily enough to lift this collection to the lofty heights of Atwood's previous work. A worthy collection.

Reviewed by Lucy Rock

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2014, and has been updated for the July 2015 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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