Book Review: Stone Mattress: Nine Tales

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Margaret Atwood (writing a non-dystopian tale), a striking cover, short stories and a comparison to Alias Grace: “Vintage Atwood creativity, intelligence, and humor: think Alias Grace.”

Those are all the reasons that compelled me to request Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. (Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday Books.)

I haven’t read Margaret Atwood in some time now. Her latest trilogy is done in her (classic) dystopian style. I cannot get into dystopia, I just don’t like it. For that reason, (some may gasp) I have not read any of the titles in the MaddAddam Trilogy. Our Hoarder Elizabeth did try Oryx and Crake and could not get through it, thereby furthering my distance from trying them out.  However, some have suggested trying The Year of the Flood and/or MaddAddam saying they weren’t too “out there” and I may discover some enjoyment in them. They have been tentatively added to the TBR, but I will always regale my love for her tales like Alias Grace, Robber Bride and The Blind Assassin (my absolute favourite).

So, to see these short stories, or tales, as Ms. Atwood prefers to call them,  and to be told to “think Alias Grace“,  well….pardon me while I get right to them.

The first three in the collection are related in that the characters are all connected to one another. The first, Alphinland, charmed the pants off me. It’s a story about the elderly Constance. Her husband has just passed and on an evening of a terrible ice storm, her husband speaks to her, reminding her what to do and helping her along throughout the night. Alphinland is actually the title of the series of books that Constance writes. They have a cult-like following and Constance herself is now struggling to recall if she’s in the present time or lost in Alphinland. The story overall was quite quiet and loveable, reminding me very much of stories like On Canaan’s Side and Bird in Snow. Thus, off to a resoundingly great start!

The second is Revenant. This is linked to Constance & the Alphinland stories as it tells the story of Gavin, a poet that was Constance’s first love and now in his advanced old age as well. There is also Reynolds, the much younger woman that cantankerous Gavin has married. I really enjoyed this one for Gavin’s cranky humour, and there are numerous parts to this story where I was chuckling to myself listening to Gavin’s wry complaints. He spends a lot of his time thinking of Constance and finds himself called to Alphinland in the close of this tale. The third story closes out these related tales with the perspective of Marjorie – she is the woman that Gavin cheated on Constance with, and now attends the funerals of the people from her past.

The following stories find no links to each other, but all do read almost like tiny horror stories. Many certainly hold that Twilight Zone-esque quality to them. Absolutely delightful!!  One is where a girl is thought to be a vampire, one where the storage locker contains unique wedding finds, including the mummified groom. Another is about an author of an international successfully written horror novel that takes on its own twist when the profits are split due to an ill-signed contract signed on a whim and in desperation and another about a woman damaged in a brief fling during high school that is determined to not let that past repeat itself and is able to seek the ultimate redemption in the end.

In all, there is not a disappointing read in the bunch! Alphinland and Stone Mattress being my very favourites. Alphinland for its sweetness and Stone Mattress for its twisted humour and that fantastic woman, Verna and its excellent and very smart writing. They are all very smartly and intelligently written, but seriously, would you expect anything less from this literary icon?   4 stars.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev