Review: Stone Mattress

Title: Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Literary fiction, speculative fiction, short story anthology

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet’s syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly-formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. And a crime committed long-ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion year old stromatalite.
In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle – and also by herself, in her award-winning novel Alias Grace. In Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

I really enjoyed the last two stories, but I didn't like the rest very much. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, but I was a little disappointed with this anthology.

The first three stories are interconnected and tell us about the lives of a novelist, poet, and muse. The three characters cross paths in unexpected ways, and it's interesting to see them in past and present. I liked Alphinland, but I didn't like the next two stories as much. I felt like they complemented Alphinland very well, but weren't so interesting in their own right.

Lusus Naturae is a dark and unsettling story about a girl who is something like a vampire. It's dark and disturbing but also has a healthy dose of dark humor. I liked this story; even though it was short, it left a much larger emotional impact on me than some of the others.

The Freeze-dried Groom and I Dream of Zenia were really bizarre stories. The first story was just so strange I didn't know what to make of it. I didn't understand the second one, but perhaps that's because I haven't read the novel that goes along with this story.

The Dead Hand Loves you was another strange story. The titular Dead Hand Loves You is the story-within-the-story (where have I seen this before? *ahem* Blind Assassin *ahem*). Unlike the Blind Assassin, which proved its importance through brilliant parallels with the lives of the characters, The Dead Hand Loves You is almost a joke. I didn't like the resolution of this story either.

Stone Mattress was my favorite story. Again, it's unsettling but full of dark humor, and a lot lighter than Lusus Naturae. Somehow the lightness is what makes this story so intense and unforgettable.

Torching the Dusties was good too. It's slow to start, but there is a constant undercurrent of unease, and the probability of something like this happening in the near future kept me on my toes.

A lot of this anthology focused on broken relationships, especially across long periods of time. Perhaps when I'm older I'll appreciate this book more, but for now, I'll stick to Atwood's novels.

*A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

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