Stone Mattress: Nine Tales

Doubleday. Sept. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780385539128. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385539135. F
OrangeReviewStarAging and death reverberate throughout Atwood's (MaddAddam) excellent collection. The first three stories give different perspectives on a shared past. In "Alphinland," newly widowed Constance reminisces about ex-lover Gavin, whose poetry she supported with her successful fantasy novels. "Revenant" picks up Gavin's life as an elderly poet, famous for the poems of his youth but now soured on life and love. "Dark Lady" introduces Jorrie, the muse of Gavin's early poems and the reason Constance left Gavin. While the other stories move on to different characters and story lines, end-of-life indignities and the desire for revenge connect them. Verna, in the title story, is on an Arctic cruise when she meets the man who date-raped her when she was 14 and decides to even the score. Jack, in "The Dead Hand Loves You," considers killing old friends in order to nullify a long-ago financial contract. And in "Torching the Dusties," the residents in a retirement home are threatened by raging youth who resent the bad decisions the previous generation has visited on them.
VERDICT Poignant, funny, distressing, and surreal, Atwood's stories bring the extraordinary to the ordinary. For Atwood devotees and literary fiction fans. [See Prepub Alert, 3/24/14.]
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