The modern myth uses many of the same narrative devices, yielding a sense of story rich in metaphor and universal, human truths, yet set in contemporary society. These are tales steeped in primal themes: the hero's journey, revenge, betrayal, gallantry, the outcast, the tragic. In the acknowledgments section of her new short story collection, "Stone Mattress," Canadian Margaret Atwood illuminates her book's mythic intent:
"Stone Mattress" is Atwood's first short story collection since 2006's "Moral Disorder." The author of over 40 books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, she is a staple of esteemed short fiction anthologies and is, perhaps, most often recognized for her classic 1985 dystopian novel, "The Handmaid's Tale."
REHMWould you read for us from the title story, "Stone Mattress"?
Margaret Atwood, the author of "Stone Mattress," uses incredible imagery in this collection, especially in the flashbacks that are present in every tale. This use of imagery, along with brilliant dialouge and the dynamic charcters, makes "Stone Mattress" a worthwhile read. It highlights some of the deeper, darker, truths in humanity, such as mistreatment of women, the issue of jealousy and hatred, and that no one is exempt from bitterness and hatred.
As Constance creates her fictional fantasy world of "Alphinland," dismissed as "juvenile pabulum" by Gavin, she strikes commercial gold, becoming a multimillionaire author. Jealous, Gavin cheats on Constance, and their relationship ends in tatters. She remarries, later becoming widowed, while Gavin lives in a state of regret. Constance, in turn, lives with the voice of her deceased husband. The story, like much of "Stone Mattress," is rife with caustic wit, memorable, if often flawed characters, and elements and implications of fantasy. The stories in "Stone Mattress" are sharp and contemporary, intelligent and darkly comic, yet awash in the wisdom of a nearly 75-year-old writer still very much in possession of her A-game. There are many standout tales in "Stone Mattress." "Lusus Naturae" (loosely translated from Latin as "freak of nature") follows a tragic young woman born with a genetic abnormality that causes her family to believe she is a monster. They lock her away to keep her from harm. In "The Freeze-Dried Groom," a man bids on an auctioned storage space with a very dark surprise. In "Torching the Dusties," the book's final tale, Wilma and Tobias are trapped in a gated retirement community under fire from a vicious "anti-elderly" witch-hunt that deems the seniors "dustballs under the bed" that must be cleaned away.