Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: STONE MATTRESS: NINE TALES, by Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, by Margaret Atwood. Published 2014 by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. Literary Fiction. Short Stories.

I don't know what I can say about the incomparable Margaret Atwood that hasn't been said already. She's probably the most prolific of my favorite living writers (A.S. Byatt doesn't publish that often; Ludmila Ulitskaya only has a handful in English, etc.) so not a lot of time goes by before there's a new opportunity to enjoy her wonderful storytelling. Stone Mattress is her most recent book, a return to the short-story form after a bunch of wonderful novels. It's also the first story collection of hers I've read; I'm not a big short-story reader generally. And it's a great collection, of course.

The first three stories are interconnected, focusing on a writer named Constance W. Starr whose fantasy series Alphinland has made her famous. The stories wind in and out of a group of artists and writers, telling events from different perspectives. Subsequent stories have the feel of fairy tales or nightmares, dark and by turns comic and ominous. "The Freeze-Dried Groom" was probably my favorite, about a man who wins an auctioned-up storage space only to be confronted with a nasty surprise. I absolutely love how this story ends, the final words. The title story is about a woman on a trip to the Arctic who takes revenge on the man who hurt her a long time ago. "Torching the Dusties" is an over-the-top dystopia that makes the final chapters of The Bone Clocks look optimistic. One of the stories acts as a sequel to her 1998 novel The Robber Bride, a bonus to long-time fans. Several of the stories touch on the dangers of underestimating a woman's power, whether that power be to create or destroy.

Atwood fans need to read this; I'd also recommend it to readers of dark fantasy and scary tales. I had a lot of fun with these stories. They're caustic, funny, disturbing and wonderful. They're classic Atwood, and maybe just plain classic.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.