Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
by Margaret Atwood | review by Casey Matthews
Writer Margaret Atwood is probably best known for her dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and she was also recently in the news for being chosen to write the first selection for the Future Library Project, a collection of stories that will be published in 2114. Since there is a really, really good chance that none of us will be around in 2114 to read Atwood’s contribution, we can certainly enjoy her latest collection of short stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, now.
Stone Mattress: Nine Tales is Atwood’s return to short stories since her last collection, Moral Disorder, was published in 2006. There is something macabre about each of these tales, and just when I thought that I could figure out the ending, Atwood takes the story in a different direction, sometimes not even giving the reader a decisive conclusion, so the reader may be left with a sense of uneasiness. However, this unresolved resolution seems to be completely purposeful. Each story involves fears that most people try to forget (as some of the characters do in their respective stories) or issues of revenge and anger, and by leaving the reader with no ending, the only remaining connection to the story becomes the reader’s resurrected emotions. In the last tale of the book, “Torching the Dusties,” a radical group begins burning down retirement homes, using the elderly as a scapegoat for economic and social problems in society. The story focuses on a virtually blind resident, Wilma, and her friend, Tobias, who watch with growing nervousness as the crowd outside their own retirement home grows larger and more unruly. In “Torching the Dusties,” Atwood brilliantly forces forward the fear of aging and facing our own mortality, and the reader is left uneasy to ponder an uncertain future.
But dark humor is also a skill that Atwood utilizes in her stories. In the title story, “Stone Mattress,” a woman has an opportunity to get revenge on someone who hurt her badly in high school. In “The Freeze-Dried Groom,” a recently-separated antique store owner bids on abandoned storage units and comes across a bizarre discovery. The first three stories, “Alphinland,” “Reverant” and “Dark Lady,” have a common thread that is woven throughout all three and years of anger and resentment are only solved with the death of a friend.
Atwood is an incredible storyteller, and the advantage of reading a collection of short stories as opposed to a novel is that each story introduces the reader to a new set of issues and emotions that are redolent in our own lives: Do we forgive? Do we get revenge when presented with the opportunity? How do we move forward when no one will let us? Stone Mattress: Nine Tales is a reminder of what Atwood does best; she tells a good story and gives the reader something to consider.
Casey Posey Matthews graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Education from University of Louisiana in Monroe and her Master of Arts degree in English from University of New Orleans and is now an English teacher at Beachwood High School in Cleveland, OH.