It seems that most, if not all, of my favorite contemporary authors are putting out books in the next year. I feel grateful, and also a little nervous that it’s going to be a drought for the next two years. Oh, who am I kidding? I have so much to read anyway. My sister alerted me to the release of Stone Mattress, and I immediately put myself on the library waitlist, hoping to get it when it was first released. Sure enough, luck was with me.
There are some authors who are fantastic short-story writers (Alice Munro, Sherman Alexie) and then there are novelists who try to write short stories (early Ian McEwan). Margaret Atwood is a rare writer who tackles both genres with seeming ease, making you want to read everything she’s ever written. Stone Mattress is no exception. She weaves together fantastical and realistic tales, themed around love, betrayal, rejection, bitterness, growing older, despair, and revenge. But the stories don’t feel repetitive, and you leave wanting more. To me, that’s a sign of success when a short story ends and I’m mad that there’s not more of it.
This collection is particularly strong, though I do have some personal favorites. There’s a trilogy of short stories to kick off the collection, starting with “Alphinland,” in which we get three perspectives on the same decades-long saga. It’s interesting, and you meet so many of the players involved. My personal favorite, though, is “The Dead Hand Loves You.” It’s a story within a story, and the two merge and cut away from each other yet again. It’s intriguing and suspenseful at once.
It might be time to read more of Atwood’s short story collections…