A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in “Alphinland,” the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In “The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom,” a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In “Lusus Naturae,” a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In “Torching the Dusties,” an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in “Stone Mattress,” a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.
I will come right out and say it: I will likely be one of the minority in the book review world that is not raving about the latest Atwood release.
These short stories varied in their themes and topics, naturally. But, I only enjoyed a few of these stories and I can’t really pinpoint an exact reason why, to be honest. Some were very interesting, like “Alphinland” and “Dark Lady” and kept me intrigued to the end.
The book’s namesake story, “Stone Mattress”, I enjoyed somewhat but I didn’t love and “Lusus Naturae” (about a woman with born with an abnormality that is mistaken for vampirism) and “Torching the Dusties” (a woman coming to terms with Charles Bonnet syndrome) I didn’t like at all. I was glad it was the last one otherwise I probably would have closed the book and sent it right back to the library. I don’t know why but they both really just rubbed me the wrong way. The writing was great, of course, however the content of those two stories are what made me lower my rating from four stars to three. I’d give it a solid 3.5 maybe.
Perhaps short stories are not my thing. Or perhaps Atwood is not my thing. I don’t know. Either way, I’m pretty mehh about the whole thing.