This collection of short stories is surprising, eclectic and presents the unexpected perspective from that of an older generation who are by no means dull or boring. Quite the opposite in fact. Atwood’s characters are sharp, witty, conniving, menacing and manipulative. She portrays the human condition in excellent form.
What struck me most about these short stories and their female main characters is that older women are not to be trifled with. They are strong and feisty despite their age and the physical afflictions that betray their bodies. The women also show moments of vulnerability, remorse and courage. The stories often end not with a resolution, but with thick tension hanging in the air, leaving me wondering what would happen next to the characters.
It’s at this point that I confess that this is the first Margaret Atwood book that I have ever read. Collective gasps. Yes, yes, I know that this is a flaw on my behalf. Now that I have experienced her admirable writing style and the wit and creativity with which she writes, I am determined to read more of her works. The Handmaid’s Tale is on my reading list for this year – another classic that I have not yet gotten around to reading.
Atwood explore themes of genre and popular fiction in her short stories. In The Dead Hand Loves You Jack desires literary genius but instead writes a trash horror novel to pay the rent, and win a bet that he can get published, which results in a low-brow fan base and movie deals but not the literary success he was chasing. In Alphinland, aging widower Constance reflects upon her youthful affair with poet Gavin, who goes on to literary acclaim while scorning Constance’s writing. Constance, meanwhile had sustained her life, and those of the men in her life, through writing Alphinland, a sci-fi fantasy fictional universe that attracts a cult following that lasts several decades.
Margaret Atwood’s ‘tales’ are intended to “evoke the world of the folk tale, the wonder tale, and the long-ago teller of tales”, and several of her tales are about tales. She’s not telling which ones, leaving the investigating to the reader.
This collection of tales is sharp, witty and half the fun for me was waiting to see what direction Atwood would take the story and its characters, and the other half was in not knowing the ending. A great way to get me involved with the story and tempt me fill in the blanks.
Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood (Bloomsbury Publishing 2014) eISBN: 978 1408857175