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Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales Paperback – June 23, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2014: “Stop trying to pimp me out to all these groupies,” a famous author and infamous cad utters in “Revenant,” one of three cleverly interconnected tales that begin Margaret Atwood’s superbly sardonic Stone Mattress. He is referring to an impending visit from an infatuated graduate student who is supposedly writing a thesis about his sonnets…which aren’t really sonnets (long story). Naveena—her name, he derisively but accurately points out, “sounds like cheese food slices. Or better—like a hair-removal cream”—is insufferable enough to be sure. The depiction makes yours truly nervous to be writing this review, but it’s all part of the fun, and these tales are fun, which is odd considering the sinister current that runs through many of them. But it’s as if the reader is privy to some sort of inside joke. This is especially evident in “The Dead Hand Loves You,” when Atwood playfully skewers the horror genre then gleefully indulges in it, and the ominously tongue-in-cheek “Torching the Dusties.” Fans of Margaret Atwood will certainly delight in this collection. But beware, the Stone Mattress will make groupies of old and new readers alike. –Erin Kodicek--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Eclectic, funny, vibrant, terrifying, beautiful, and utterly delightful.” —The Boston Globe
“A tour de force of wit, style, and discernment.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Astonishing. . . . Powerful. . . . I loved these strange, sharp and wild stories.” —Meg Wolitzer, NPR
“Pure, simple and stunning. . . . Endearing, subtle, quite brilliant.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Powerful. . . . Witty and frequently biting, Stone Mattress is keen to the ways in which we choose, all our lives, to love and to hurt—and in Atwood’s world these two actions are always choices, creating consequences for which we will one day be held to account.” —The New York Times Book Review
“[These] stories have the caustic wit and giddy deviance . . . along with the probing interiority and flinty insights of Atwood’s novels.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Danc[es] over the dark swamps of Horror on the wings of satirical wit. . . . Look at these tales . . . as eight icily refreshing arsenic Popsicles followed by a baked Alaska laced with anthrax, all served with impeccable style and aplomb. Enjoy!” —Ursula K. Le Guin, Financial Times
“Stylish, acerbic and wickedly funny. . . . With wit, sympathy and precision, Atwood draws readers into a reflective frame of mind.” —The Miami Herald
“The collection is surprisingly unsettling, gripping and at once laugh-out-loud hilarious. It attains its laudable goal: Myths last over time, and the stories in this book have that very quality. They are timeless, memorable and quite simply fun.” —Chicago Tribune
“Absorbing. . . . Impressive. . . . Stone mattresses make for restless sleep, but in this elegant collection, everyone expresses that restlessness differently.” —The A.V. Club
“Powerful. . . . Extraordinary. . . . Realism and ridiculousness, play and deadly seriousness, are held in fine balance throughout.” —The Guardian (London)
“Wise and witty. . . . Atwood writes essentially intellectual fiction, spryly coiled around solid themes, yet borrowing the amusements of pulp genres, from science fiction to horror.” —The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Compelling. . . . Astonishing. . . . Atwood illuminates heavy themes with a lightness of touch, giving insight not only into the nature of stone but the trials and tribulations of flesh and blood.” —The Observer (London)
“A collection rich in sly humour and pulpy thrills.” —The Telegraph (London)
“This collection of short stories is charged with a delightful cheekiness, as well as a full awareness of the subjectivity of notions of justice and value. . . . Witty, weird, chirpily irreverent, somewhat hard-hearted, and hugely insightful.” —The Independent (London)
“[Atwood’s] ability to surprise and her sparkling language are on full display. . . . Stone Mattress not only showcases its author’s talents at their most refined, it also affords a glimpse behind the curtain to the woman working the megaphone.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“Wickedly funny, mordantly observed ruminations on how the sexes interact. . . . With Stone Mattress, Atwood brilliantly returns to her literary roots as a deliciously funny observer of the human comedy.” —The Toronto Star
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Top Customer Reviews
This is a (not surprisingly) well-written collection of stories which definitely intrigued me. In fact, there were several stories I wish ran even longer, because I so enjoyed the characters and wanted to know more about what happened to them when the stories ended.
The stories in Stone Mattress: Nine Tales are mostly about reasonably normal people dealing with unusual or emotionally challenging circumstances. My favorites included: "The Dead Hand Loves You," in which the author of a horror masterpiece, written to get him out of debt more than anything else, reflects on the circumstances in which he created the book, and the people who inspired him and fired his resentment; "Torching the Dusties," where an elderly woman in an assisted living facility is struggling both with the visions of little people she keeps seeing and the fact that an activist group has stormed her facility, threatening to burn it down and kill all the residents; "The Freeze-Dried Groom," about an antique dealer and thief who finds more than he bargained for when he bids on an unclaimed storage unit; and the title story, in which a woman rights a long-festering wrong, on an Arctic cruise, of all places. I also really enjoyed the trio of linked stories, "Alphinland," "Revenant," and "Dark Lady," which dealt with two writers battling the challenges of growing old and reflecting on their work, and a woman who once came between them.
I felt Atwood was at her best in this collection when her stories, dark as they may be, were slightly more grounded in reality than those which dealt with more fantastical subjects. I really enjoyed her writing, and reading this definitely has me thinking I'll need to read more of her books.
But, in the end, what makes this book readable, would be the way it paints our elders. Quite often we do not take the time to understand the generations that has gone before us. How often do you read of the struggels of an eighty-year old, written in a way one can identify with? I would recommend this to those who wish to see how the other part of our population lives, not just people in their twenties. And it's easily readable, and quite interesting.
I've had an ambivalent feeling about a fair number of Atwood's books. Some I've liked a great deal. Others left me cold. But I can absolutely recommend "Stone Mattress." It is one I'd be happy to reread.
While I liked - often loved- some of the tales in this book, there were a couple which weren't nearly as compelling as the rest. "Stone Mattress", the centerpiece of the book, focused on a woman bent on revenge and murder for a terrible injustice done her many years ago. Does she succeed? I won't disclose that, won't spoil it for potential readers. But I can say that I never thought I'd feel drawn to a possible murderess and feel compassion and understanding for her intense anger. I do want to add that some of the details in "Stone Mattress" are gruesome - so be aware of that.
If I tried to describe every one of the works here, this review would be overly long so I'll simply mention one other which resonated with me, "Torching the Dusties". It portrays a timely issue, the resentment felt by some younger adults towards the older generation who - in their opinion - "messed it up" for the next generation, killing the planet with greed and blindness to their impact on the environment. The younger adults feel cheated and are outraged, determined to do something about it. Again, I won't reveal more details about what happens next. I hate reviews with spoilers.
I hope this review perks your interest and if you've never been a fan of Atwood that you consider revisiting her writing by reading "Stone Mattress." I'd be interested in other readers" take on it. I received a free copy of this for review but was a bit reluctant to dive into an Atwood book. I'm glad I dove into this one.