Stone Mattress | Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is a revelation of written creativity, at 76yrs old she is a poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor and environmental activist with more works of fiction and poetry to count. She is also an Arthur C. Clarke Award winner for her science fiction novel, THE HANDMAID’S TALE. Age will not stand in her way and she is back with a collection of nine short stories in STONE MATTRESS – a collection of eclectic and somewhat dark tales that will appeal to all with a penchant for dark stories that tell “wicked and vindictive inner conversations that we have with ourselves from time to time.” I can’t wait to read this book that Kernel Fiona reviews for us all. STONE MATTRESS is out now from the fine folks at Allen and Unwin Book Publishers. You will definitely find this one in most bookstores or you can obtain it HERE. All the best………….JK.

 

Stone Mattress Book Cover image

 

BY FIONA FYFE

The Mistress of the Intelligent Put Down and the Queen of Insight is back with a clever collection of short stories. Atwood has always been accomplished at telling it how it is no matter how tactless or unpalatable. The nine tales in STONE MATTRESS are classic Atwood and much to my delight she has resurrected the characters from The Robber Bride for the story I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth. Charis, Roz and Tony are still haunted by the ghost of man-stealing, Zenia and for those readers who have read The Robber Bride, it is rather like meeting up with old friends. Arguably her best work and my favourite book of all time, it’s exciting to reacquaint one’s self with this oddball trio of women.

In Alphinland, a recent widow and writer of schlock fantasy spends her days talking to her dead husband. Constance has forged a career out of a bizarre series of books that talk of Hank-Imps, Cyanoreens and Firepiggles. Even more incredible is the fact that Alphinland or Aphid Land as her old flame nastily refers to it, has been so successful. Despite many happy years with husband Ewan, now deceased, Constance is still smarting half a century later over the loss of her lover Gavin, a writer of erotic poetry. Constance was his muse, his “dark lady” and he threw it all away for a quick roll in the sack with some frivolous and eminently forgettable, floozy. Now partnered with his third wife, the fussing and bustling Reynolds, Gavin is as lecherous and grasping as in his youth.

 

Margaret Atwood Author image
Margaret Atwood Author Image | Photo Credit: Canadian Press / Rex Features

 

In Revenant, Atwood takes up Gavin and Reynold’s story as they prepare for the arrival of a young graduate student. Naveena is keen to interview the ageing poet and gain perception into his work and early inspirations. Instead she is alarmed to discover that not only is Gavin a tawdry old man, he’s also hugely mean-spirited. As the hapless Naveena unleashes a barrage of questions at Gavin, all he can think is; “how dare she? He was already middle-aged when she was born! He could have been her father! He could have been her child molester!”

In Dark Lady, we are introduced to septuagenarian twins, Jorrie and Tin. Flighty and vulnerable, Jorrie has long eschewed her birth name Marjorie and runs with the wolves. She lives with her sarcastic brother Martin – Tin being a corruption of his birth name, who is an acerbic old queen who acts as his sister’s emotional caretaker and fashion advisor. There’s no doubt that Tin’s malevolent wit and wry observations make for an interesting character. Jorrie’s past has her distantly connected to the lascivious Gavin and it is in unexpected circumstances that bygones are visited upon the present. Wouldn’t we all be tempted to glam up if we had another chance to face our nemesis at some point in the future? Isn’t closure best sought in the right kind of bling?

 

Stone Mattress Book Cover image

 

Atwood’s characters are brutally honest if not entirely likeable. The personalities that parade through the pages of STONE MATTRESS are not prone to gilding the lily. No warm and fuzzy feel-good flakes here. In The Freeze-Dried Groom we meet recently rejected Sam. His wife Gwyneth has chosen breakfast to tell him that the marriage is over and give him his marching orders. From this low point, his day gradually worsens before making a segue into wackiness on a grand scale. Should he return to the safe and familiar and convince Gwyneth to give it another shot? Or should he jump from the precipice with the wind in his hair? As he so recklessly observes; “he needs this oblong of freefall time he’s about to enter. Anything at all can happen within it.”

Atwood traverses a peculiar range of topics from genetic abnormalities and curses to vampires and vengeful pensioners. The story of the title, STONE MATTRESS, introduces us to Verna who is about to embark on a trip to the Arctic. Initially it was just a vacation she was after but soon it is murder that’s on her mind.

Verna’s malice aforethought is a unifying theme in this collection. And perhaps it can truthfully be said that at one point or another we have all secretly wanted to kill somebody. At certain times on life’s journey that cracking point is reached and causing harm to our transgressor becomes suddenly paramount. What Atwood has crafted here is a deliciously malignant window into the wicked and vindictive inner conversations that we have with ourselves from time to time.

 

4 Pops

 

Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then. You can catch her and her tweets at @FionaJayneFyfe1

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.