|Publisher||McClelland & Stewart|
Stone Mattress is a short fiction collection by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood, published in 2014. Atwood describes the pieces in the collection as "tales" rather than short stories, as they draw from the mythical and fantastical aspects associated with fables and fairy tales, rather than from conventional literary realism.
The nine tales in the collection are:
- Alphinland - Set in Toronto, Constance's first love was Gavin, a poet. Constance created a sword-and-sorcery world called Alphinland which evolved over many years with great success. Gavin betrayed her and slept with Jorrie so Constance put him in an oak cask in Alphinland. Constance then married Ewan who subsequently died of cancer. She hears her dead husband Ewan's voice in her head and they argue and she fears that Ewan has disappeared into Alphinland...
- Revenant - Gavin's third wife Reynolds has asked a graduate student, Naveena to study his poetry. But instead Naveena's research is centred around Alphinland rather than Gavin's poetry, and Gavin loses patience with Naveena who leaves. That evening Gavin falls over and cuts his head. Reynolds tries to help him. As he dies he sees a vision of Constance in Alphinland who welcomes him to her, and she is young again.
- Dark Lady - Twins Marjorie and Martin (Jorrie and Tin) live together and Jorrie reads Gavin's obituary. Jorrie remembers her brief affair with Gavin which was discovered by Constance. The twins attend Gavin's funeral at Enoch Turner Schoolhouse in Toronto where they meet Naveena, Reynolds and Constance. Jorrie and Constance forgive each other for the past..
- Lusus Naturae - Means Latin for 'freak of nature' and refers to a woman with a genetic abnormality and who is mistaken for a vampire. Her family accept her disease as a form of punishment and stage her death to enable her sister to marry. The family bribes a priest to arrange for her funeral and pretends that the women has died. The woman lays low locally for a few years until she is discovered and killed.
- The Freeze-Dried Groom - Sam's marriage is over that morning and Gwyneth throws him out. Sam is an 'antique dealer' (furniture enhancer) and heads that morning to a storage unit auction in Mississauga. He wins the unit and finds that it contains a wedding and discovers that the groom has been murdered. The bride then arrives, the cheque was lost in the mail so she was unable to keep the unit and she was delayed by the snow-storm. The bride reveals that the groom died in a sex game and lied her guests that she'd been jilted. She asked Sam to raise the price but Sam tells her that they share the hotel room that night as the storm closes in...
- I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth - Charis lives in Parkdale, Toronto and had a relationship with Billy some years ago. Her friend Zenia stole her boyfriend Billy, but Zenia is long dead. Charis has recently acquired a dog called Ouida, and Billy and Charis have rekindled their love. Ouida is a reincarnation of Zenia and bites Billy's genitals and he is rushed to hospital...
- The Dead Hand Loves You - In the early 1960s Jack Dace was trying to write a novel which he was struggling to complete and his three student flat-mates agree to split the story four ways. The characters in it were thinly disguised portraits of his flat-mates. To Jack's surprise the novel is successful, as is the subsequent film and remake, and the contract itself seemed to him as being unfair. Jack checks the whereabouts of the protagonists and decides to consider liquidating them...
- Stone Mattress (The New Yorker, Dec 2011) - Verna has had several husbands, each having died of 'natural causes'. Verna then goes on a cruise to the Arctic and considers the single men among the passengers including several Bobs. But then she sees Bob Goreham who had raped her fifty-odd years ago when she was fourteen. She moved to a home for unwed mothers and the baby was taken away. But Bob does not recognise her and she plans to kill him via a 1.9 billion old stromatolite...
- Torching the Dusties - Wilma is an elderly widow who suffers from Charles Bonnet syndrome and sees imaginary people. She lives in a retirement home called Ambrosia Manor with her friend Tobias. But demonstrators gather and picket near the entrance and have threatened to burn it down...
Sam Baker in The Independent writes "Retribution, strong women, otherworldly happenings – all the Atwood hallmarks are here. What’s new is Atwood’s fierce and fearless take on ageing. But the stars are the triptych of stories that open this collection. “Alphinland”, “Revenant” and “Dark Lady” centre around a distant love triangle from the vantage point of old age. Constance, now the wildly successful writer of the Alphinland fantasies, wreaks her revenge through her writing. Subtle? Maybe not. But they are, without exception, razor sharp, with Atwood’s gimlet eye for the ludicrousness of modern life: HDTV, video games and Twilight-esque vampires all come in for a pasting."
- "Margaret Atwood combines realism and folklore in 'Stone Mattress'". CTV News, September 8, 2014.
- "Stone Mattress review – Margaret Atwood's new collection of short stories". The Guardian, October 10, 2014.
- The Independent, 31st Aug, 2014