It’s been a while since I read something of Margaret Atwood. I haven’t read any of the books of the MaddAddam Trilogy. The Year of the Flood was the last of her books that I read and The Blind Assassin remains my absolute favourite.
But here it is, the Stone Mattress, a book that consists of nine short stories. Atwood calls then tales because they are mythological in nature, they have an element of magical realism to them. The first three stories are connected; they are about three elderly people, who had a bohemian youth, fell in love and for a while lived in a love triangle. Constance is a celebrity writer, the creator of a mythological landscape called Alphinland, which is actually the title of the successful series of books that she writes and where she spends a lot of time, it is like living in two places at the same time. The second story is about Gavin, Constance’s first love, who cheated on her with Marjorie, the third party in their love- triangle. Gavin, now a famous poet, in his advanced age becomes sentimental and thinks a lot about Constance. Marjorie, who is was supposedly Gavin’s muse in his Dark Lady poems, has spent almost all her adult years with the feeling of being trapped in a mysterious place and only when Constance set her free from Alphinland, is able to overcome the pain of being rejected by Gavin. Absolutely fascinating!
The rest 6 stories are tiny horror stories. A woman with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire, a sexual violent crime in the 60s provokes an ingenious, revenge crime 40 years later in the Arctic, via a 1.9-billion-year-old stromatolite, a disembodied hand in love, a storage box that contain a complete wedding with the cake and everything, including the mummified groom. One of my favourite stories is the ‘Torching the Dusties’ where the narrator is a very old and almost blind woman that lives in a retirement home. There is a terrorist group of some crazy people who wear baby masks and are going around the country burning down retirement homes because they believe old people are taking the chances from them. It is a disturbing and yet funny at times, story.
“You believed you could transcend the body as you aged, she tells herself. You believed you could rise above it, to a serene, nonphysical realm. But it’s only through ecstasy you can do that, and ecstasy is achieved through the body itself. Without the bone and sinew of wings, no flight. Without that ecstasy you can only be dragged further down by the body, into its machinery. Its rusting, creaking, vengeful, brute machinery.” – Torching the Dusties
The Stone Mattress is an interesting collection of stories about what means to grow older, the insecurities and the courage of the older people, their despair and their anger, it is also about love and hope. Some of the stories are dark and haunting but also humorous. Atwood’s prose is sharp and vivid, grotesque and wild, intelligent and witty. I enjoyed reading it very much.