Margaret Atwood's 'Stone Mattress' Inspires Speculation

By Jaclyn Bauer in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 27, 2014 4:00PM

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Margaret Atwood’s latest collection of short stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, evoke the classic Atwood aura of strangeness, intrigue and utter shock. Released in September, this is Atwood’s first short story collection since 2006's Moral Disorder. Each tale investigates questions surrounding morality, mortality and humanity among other themes.

Nearly all of the main characters are in the twilight of their lives and are often dealing with situations, memories and people from their pasts. Many of these characters move through multiple stories. In these instances, the reader is able to see characters from different perspectives and with varying degrees of knowledge concerning the situations at hand.

Lightly tracing the inner workings of any given character’s mind, the reader can never be sure with whom to identify, sympathize with or root for to overcome their struggles. We meet lovers, ex-lovers, murderers, the raped, defamed and tossed aside as well as those who raped, defamed and did the tossing. Perspective is by far one of the most adamantine themes of Stone Mattress, making its appearance time and again.

In Dark Lady, a set of twins, Jorrie and Tin, attends the funeral of Jorrie’s dead ex-lover who caused Jorrie an abundance of pain. The reader discovers this lover is intimately connected to three other characters that have already made appearances in earlier stories. The title story’s main character, Verna, is a soul-battered woman at the edge of her life who has successfully killed each of her previous four husbands. When we meet Verna, she is plotting the murder of an ex-acquaintance who “turned her into—why not say the word?—a murderer.” In other stories the reader meets vampire-esque young girls, armies of small men all in green and freeze dried bodies in addition to all of the purely human characters.

From the exorcised to the self-contained, Atwood brings together characters with varying degrees of torment. It’s easy to become enraptured in the text as the reader follows characters from story to story, learning more, often, than even the narrator knows. Atwood lives up to all the talent that has contributed to her fame and following thus far, leaving readers, as always, eager for more.