First published by The Big Issue in September 2014
This year a prolific giant of literary fiction delivers a collection of nine short tales and – judging by the acknowledgments – Atwood prefers this term to ‘stories’, at least in this instance. Unsurprisingly, the tales range from elegant and morbid, to fanciful and oh-so-playful.
Each of the first three tales captures a colourful cross-section of a cast of ageing characters, recalling their artistic and sexual glory days. Among the most notable of these characters are elderly twins Tin and Jorrie. As the twins prepare to attend the funeral of celebrated poet Gavin Putnam, their affectionate co-dependence is full of pep and spark.
The last six tales are also linked, although their connection is more conceptual. Atwood is famous for her dark imagination and she doesn’t disappoint: an antiques collector is sexually excited by the thought of disappearing; a creature who starts life as a human becomes a fang-bearing forest dweller; and a horrifying group of young activists take to burning down aged care facilities.
The Stone Mattress offers biting and tender observations of ageing, fading and other processes beyond our control.