Title: Stone Mattress
Author: Margaret Atwood
First Published: 2014
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 4.14)
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who likes good stories
The Beginning: The freezing rain sifts down, handfuls of shining rice thrown by some unseen celebrant.
Short stories have never really been my thing. They’re too short and I usually can’t be bothered. But some authors make it all worthwhile. Like Atwood. She’s almost always freaking amazing and I loved these nine tales.
The first three tales are somewhat entwined: a set of characters share a past: Two lovers and the other woman. These were three very enjoyable stories, but nothing incredible.
Now that I was dead, I was freer.
The fourth story, Lusus Naturae, took my breath away. It was a perfect story of alienation in beautiful writing. A girl is born with some sort of genetic error, which leads to alienation, first from her family and then from society, and finally to some sort of empowerment. It’s very short and very perfect. I remember reading it in a café after work and completely forgot about time and place.
Perhaps in Heaven I’ll look like an angel. Or perhaps the angels will look like me. What a surprise that will be, for everyone else! It’s something to look forward to.
The next threes stories, ‘The Freeze-Dried Groom’, ‘I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth’ and ‘The Dead Hand Loves You’, were all very good and entertaining stories, but nothing exceptional here. That surprised me, as I was very curious about the second one, which is a continuation to one of my favorite Atwood novels, ‘The Robber Bridegroom’, where Zenia revisits our three heroines once again. What the tale does is prove the point the story already made years ago. It was a fun revisit, but nothing special.
The title story, Stone Mattress, could have been an amazing novel. A woman was raped on prom night and takes revenge many years later. She never victimizes herself, just states what happened, how it affected her life, how pissed off she feels when encountering the man again many years later, and her inner debate on whether or not to take revenge. It was cool.
The last tale, ‘Torching the Dusties’, was one of the most brilliant stories I’ve ever read. Numerous retirement homes around the world are attacked and burned down by an activist group raging against the older generation, claiming it’s their turn now. I really liked this idea for a story. In most stories where a minority is attacked, we usually follow a young hero(ine). Here we follow an old blind lady at one of the homes that are attacked. It’s one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read. And one of the most brilliant. This is what I like about Atwood: She writes about characters you don’t encounter elsewhere. Usually old people function as narrators looking back and telling the wonderful stories of their youth. Atwood places the dystopian action right in the middle of the retirement house. I love that. I wish it was a 600 page novel.
I read this last story in bed on a Saturday morning and had to wake up Mr. Boyfriend and tell him about what I’d just read. He’s a very patient man.