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.
I just read the most amazing comment on Goodreads: “I would read IKEA assembly instructions if Margaret Atwood wrote them.” Margaret Atwood couldn’t ruin anything she wrote. Her stories are ripe with societal insight and character development that all other writers are envious of.
Each short story seems to include a different level of loss and despair. Some of the stories relate to each other (the first three, for example), whilst others are standalone. The first three stories seem to make up a trilogy, in the loose sense that Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and Maddadam make up a trilogy. There’s long paragraphs about the characters, which would usually deter me and cause me to skip ahead, but Margaret Atwood describes her characters using flashbacks or tangents, and it makes the piece flow easily. Her dialogue is always believable and her characters’ reactions to their situations are plausible and realistic to that character.
I will point out that the last couple of stories aren’t as good as the start of Stone Mattress. They aren’t bad; they just don’t seem to have that same feeling resonating with the reader at the end of the story. You usually read a Margaret Atwood short story and you know that you got all of the information necessary to understanding it, but you still have so many questions. Margaret is the queen of giving the reader only what they need to know and nothing more.
My Score: 9/10