The BUZZ: A book of short stories by the incomparable Atwood. She has 40 published works – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books – to her credit to date.
The GIST: These nine tales are deceptive. On the surface, they are straightforward, told in the crisp, witty, intelligent style Atwood is known for. The reader is brought in comfortably, given complete access to the internal world of each narrator, and then led to an acceptable conclusion. A question remains, though; Atwood gives the reader something to chew on. Nothing is as it seems.
The first three tales are linked by shared characters and move from today to the 60’s and back again seamlessly. Others explore the nature of being an outsider, a conman, a murderess, a writer, and/or a fool. There’s even a parable or two hidden in these archly modern tales. There are themes of love and sex, aging, the imperfection of memory, and the way we rewrite our histories to suit our constantly changing lives and selves. The stories are also about hope – hope for love, for redemption, or for a second chance. Atwood is a realist and an optimist, and an alchemist in the way she mixes these perspectives.
The WRITING: Ingenious. As a poet and novelist, Atwood is more adept than most at harnessing words to do her bidding. Her descriptions of place are so complete that the reader is on the scene immediately, immersed and engaged. Atwood’s ability to capture human insecurities and flawed thinking is unparalleled in modern writing. She is unflinching, never sparing us from the ugly truth and yet serving us these truths in beautiful ways. We can digest them because we are in her clever and capable hands. Reading Margaret Atwood is a delight; Stone Mattress is the work of an artist at the peak of her powers.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy. These stories deserve many reads. Since I put the book down, I haven’t been able to get the characters out of my head. And I’m not sure I want to.
This isn’t what she signed up for when she married him. She most likely envisioned a fascinating life, filled with glamorous, creative people and stimulating intellectual chit-chat. And that did happen some, when they were first married; that and the flare-up of his still active hormones. The last kaboom of the firecracker before it fizzled; but now she’s stuck with the burnt-out aftermath. In his more lenient moments, he feels sorry for her.